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Okotoks emotional support livestock a good decision, says pig owner

Longview resident Paola Jumilla has owned a pet pig for emotional support since 2020.

According to a Foothills pig owner, the Town of Okotoks' new emotional support livestock pilot program is a step in the right direction.

The decision, unanimously approved during a June 24 council meeting, will see emotional support livestock permitted in Okotoks for a one-year trial, with applications approved on a case-by-case basis. 

"I feel like people should be allowed to decide on what they want to have or what they can get animal-wise," said Longview resident Paola Jumilla, who has owned a pig for emotional support since 2020. 

The pig, named Willie, has been raised by Jumilla since he was about six weeks old. While Willie is not officially registered as an emotional support animal, he has played a crucial role in supporting Jumilla throughout her struggle with anxiety.

"Having emotional support animals... it just gives your life a little bit of purpose depending on what you're going through. You're giving yourself a purpose every day to wake up, it just makes the world a little bit better."

Having a pig as an emotional support animal is a great alternative to a dog in terms of allergies and intelligence, said Jumilla, adding the conversation around emotional support animals should not be limited to dogs.

"I've seen ESA (emotional support animal) horses or chickens or ducks... they shouldn't be [making rules about] animals you can have and what you can't have.

"I'm not saying you should get a horse," she continued. "It depends on what you could provide for this animal. As long as you can provide all the necessities for this animal to have a good and healthy life, I feel like you should be allowed to have one."

The Town of Okotoks' responsible pet ownership bylaw, updated to reflect the June 24 decision, classifies a wide variety of animals as livestock, such as "a horse, mule, ass, swine, emu, ostrich, camel, llama, alpaca, sheep or goat," along with "domestically reared or kept deer, reindeer, moose, elk or bison."

Jumilla acknowledges there has been some controversy around the program, which requires that emotional support livestock animals be under 180 kilograms and that applications be subject to authorization by Okotoks Municipal Enforcement on a case-by-case basis.

"People were saying, 'Oh, I guess I can have a horse in my backyard,'" she said. "Ideally you can't, because that horse needs more space in the area. It needs proper exercise and proper amount of area."

Willie is house-trained, litter-trained and goes for regular walks with his owner. He is a pet rather than an animal raised for agricultural purposes, meaning that he is not considered livestock, according to Jumilla.

The Village of Longview's current animal control bylaw shares the Town of Okotoks' definition of livestock, but a new Village bylaw draft proposed in May would specifically add "domestic pigs" to this definition.

"They're trying to change the bylaws in town, which is weird," said Jumilla, who has not encountered issues with her ownership of Willie over the last four years. "You are so close to farmland and ranchland and all that, so having bylaws about [pet pigs] doesn't really make sense to me."

She added that Willie is beloved throughout Longview, which has a population of approximately 300.

"He's kind of like an emotional support animal not just for me, for the whole town," she said. "Everybody loves Willie and they just stop by my house and always ask how he's doing and stuff like that. He does bring a lot of smiles to the whole town. I just love it."

Amir Said

About the Author: Amir Said

Amir Said is a reporter and photographer with the Western Wheel covering local news in Okotoks and Foothills County. For story tips or questions about his articles, Amir can be reached at [email protected].
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