EFFINGHAM — Rather than abandon Minnie and Betsy, the Payne family left Effingham after they were ordered to get rid of the potbellied pigs because the city of Effingham classifies the animals as livestock. And livestock isn't allowed within city limits.
The animals had lived in the home on 510 W. Indiana St. until someone reported an odor from the animals, which Tara Payne said was a lie. The animals are housebroken and were kept inside, she said.
"They're family. You don't give up on your family members," Tara Payne said.
The Paynes moved to the town of Bonnie, a village in Jefferson County about 75 miles south of Effingham along Interstate 57. Brian Payne was able to transfer his job near there, and Tara Payne, a licensed practical nurse, took a new nursing job.
She also transferred from Lake Land College to Rend Lake College to complete her education and become a registered nurse.
She said she became so angry at the community she could barely stand to be in Effingham, feeling that she and her family were being excluded. She questioned why there was the focus on her animals and not the significant number of cats and dogs kept within the community. In total, the purchase of a new home, moving, continued mortgage on the Effingham home and other actions have cost about $90,000, she said.
The result has settled them in a place where the pigs can be outside, she said. The new setting has improved the family's overall quality of life.
"I'm glad it's over, and I'm glad to be out there and live with people who are kind," Tara Payne said.
When the issue surfaced earlier this year, the Paynes said they would appear at city council meetings to press for a change in the ordinance that would allow them to keep their pets. But Tara Payne said they were unable to make the meetings and decided attending would be a waste of time. She said the city leaders had clearly made up their minds about the matter and any conversation would be unproductive.
Effingham Mayor Jeff Bloemker said rules are rules.
"The lesson for all of us here is that if you are going to have an unusual animal as a pet, you need to check local ordinances," Bloemker said.
He sympathized with the Paynes, saying he had considered having a potbellied pig, but the animal was not an option within the city.
The city filed a lawsuit Feb. 23. Now that the Paynes have moved, the city is not pursuing the matter.
Bloemker said the city dropped the case as the city "didn't want to cause the Paynes any more difficulty or trouble than already happened."
"I never had the opportunity to speak with the Paynes personally," said Bloemker.
There seemed to be little local interest, he said, but added the city did receive a number of communications from across the country.
Potbellied pigs are allowed as pets in some communities, but the acceptance is scattered.
"For the purposes of USDA's animal disease surveillance, response, and control activities, as well as our import/export requirements, potbellied pigs are classified as 'swine,' which are considered 'livestock' under the broad authority of the Animal Health Protection Act," according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's website.
That's partly because the animals are susceptible to several diseases that can be transmitted to humans, the USDA notes. In response, some communities require regular testing for these diseases.