Lisa Pia says her autistic 8-year-old son, Anthony, was transformed last year at the sight of a potbellied pig.
"It was, 'Oh, Mommy!' ‘Look, Mommy!’ He went wild," remembers Pia, who was so struck by her little boy's reaction to the pig during a visit to a ranch 45 minutes from the family's home in Fayetteville, N.C., that they adopted her. But for the past month, the pig — christened Loopey — has been back at the ranch while the family fights an ordinance that prohibits keeping pigs in the city.
When the family first adopted Loopey, she was smaller than a cat. "We wrapped her up in a blanket, gave her to Anthony and he would carry her around in this blanket like she was a little baby," says Pia, a 33-year-old secretary.
Anthony, who has three sisters, had largely ignored the family’s dog and cat. But with Loopey, "It was just like he started learning responsibility because that was his pet," says Pia, noting that the little guy took on the job of feeding the pig. "He started interacting and it was great to see that. Who would have thought that the love of a potbellied pig would help bring an autistic boy out of his shell?"
Loopey followed Anthony wherever he went, chased him around the backyard, joined him at snack time, cuddled next to him when they watched movies, and slept on a pillow beside his bed at night. And Loopey, who weighs around 85 lbs., "was no different than a dog" in terms of her behavior and interaction, says Pia.
A city ordinance says otherwise. Pia believes someone spotted Loopey in the family’s yard last month and reported him to authorities. Facing fines, Pia agreed to return Loopey to the ranch while they fought to bring Loopey home. She says the family has the support of a city councilman, disability advocates who view Loopey as an "emotional support animal" and more than 4,000 people who have signed an online petition via a Web site that her husband, Bobby Tibbetts, discovered. “We’ve had a signature from every place out there,” Pia says, naming several countries.
Family members attended a city council meeting on Aug. 3, wearing "Loopey For Autism" T-shirts. By a 6-2 vote, the council agreed to further consider the matter next month. Council member Keith Bates, who advised the family on moving Loopey until the issue was resolved, says his research shows potbellied pigs are pets — not livestock. He’s suggested the city’s no-swine ordinance be amended with a simple "excluding potbellied pigs" and is optimistic about the outcome, though he acknowledges, "It’s still not a done deal."
Meanwhile, Pia comforts her distraught son, who is “tossing and turning, crying” at night and spending more time in his room. Says the determined mom: “We’re going to fight every day til she comes home.”