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March 16, 2012

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Woman feads off authorities to keep pet pig

A charming story about a woman and her hefty pet pig in Shanghai has turned the spotlight onto the lack of regulations about exotic pets.

An office worker surnamed Hua said she had to be persistent in dealings with urban law enforcement officials to keep her one-year-old pet pig Kuma from being "dealt with."

Despite the pressure to hand over the pig, Hua said: "Kuma is already a dear friend and part of the family now ... I would try everything possible to protect it."

She and Kuma, who weighs 25 kilograms, shot to fame late last month after people uploaded photos online of Hua walking the pig near their downtown home. The pig with a pink nose and a small patch of black skin around the middle of its forehead and tail became an online star with many posters expressing envious comments about the adorable animal.

The photos attracted media attention and the story was widely reported in the city. Hua told a local media outlet that the pig had arrived out of a "lovely mistake."

She said she bought it online from an out-of-town pet pig breeder for 500 yuan (US$78) in May 2011. The seller had said Kuma, named after Hua's favorite cartoon character, was a special mini-sized pig species, good for keeping in the home. But this was either a lie or a mistake. After Hua received the pig, Kuma gained weight quickly. Its size caused a "sweet pain" for Hua given that she shares a medium-sized apartment with her parents.

Neighbors said Kuma was mild in character and that Hua was responsible in keeping it clean and odor free.

Pigs can make wonderful pets as they are known to be intelligent, easily trained, curious, affectionate, playful, clean, quiet, odor free, and usually non-allergenic.

However, they are also head-strong and sensitive. Without appropriate stimulation they can become bored and possibly destructive or aggressive. They also love to eat. Pigs can learn to open the fridge and cupboards to find food.

"Kuma is so smart and has such a great sense of scent that it even picked up money on the street," Hua was quoted as saying. "Once I took Kuma for a walk and at one point it rubbed on the ground and stopped. I was so surprised to find the pig with a 50 yuan banknote in its mouth. It didn't even chew it."

Hua added that on another occasion Kuma picked up a 20 yuan banknote.

A Chinese proverb states "fame portends trouble for men just as fattening does for pigs." In Kuma's case, fame proved to be a bigger cause for concern as exposure online and in local newspapers generated the attention of the district Urban Management Team, a law enforcement agency responsible for overseeing public sanitation, and the neighborhood committee.

They told Hua "the pig is illegal" and urged the family to give it up "to be dealt with."

In the following week, Hua stopped walking the pig in the neighborhood, ordered diapers and also had it vaccinated at pet clinics, according to her microblog.

She argued that she combed through all regulations but found nothing illegal about a pet pig.

She said she was willing to pay any licensing fee and complete all legal procedures but she couldn't find any to comply with.

"Kuma arrived during the most difficult period of my life and helped me recover and pick myself up," Hua said on her microblog. "It has been a great mental comfort and source of happiness for me."

After being given a deadline by the neighborhood community office to hand over the pig, she wrote: "I am only trying to save Kuma from the ordinary fate of a pig but it's so difficult."

The suspense ended with a seemingly happy ending as Hua pledged to the neighborhood committee that they would minimize walking times and the animal would only excrete in designated spots and create no sanitation trouble in the community.

Hua has since refused media follow-up interviews, apparently out of concern that more publicity will create another crisis.

The Urban Management Team said there are no laws to regulate exotic pets such as lizards, rats, squirrels and pigs. Thus they can only intervene when such animals pose a sanitation problem or safety risk to the public.

Meanwhile, the public is concerned that exotic pets may spread diseases and be unsanitary. All sides feel the government needs to enact laws to regulate licensing and vaccinations of such animals.

Without such laws, owners of unusual pets face the risk of their animal being seized.

In Kuma's case, authorities argued the pig could spread rabies as Hua had posted pictures online of a dog bite the animal sustained on one walk.

Further showing the lack of laws about household pets, the city regulates licensing, vaccinations and other requirements for pet dogs, but not for cats.

However, cats don't cause concern among the public as they have long been accepted as a "safe" pet by Chinese communities.


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