Pig Discrimination in Coral Springs?
Update February 4, 2013: Heather Ray disputes Goehrig's version of events. She contends that she first wrote e-mails to the city announcing her intention to get a therapy pig, and the city told her it was not allowed. She claims she then researched the Americans with Disabilities Act and spoke to representatives at the Department of Justice who told her the city would need to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.
Believing that federal law was on her side, Ray bought the pig and wrote letters to commissioners letting them know. It was, then, she says, that a Sun-Sentinel reporter contacted her; the resulting article was followed by scores of other media calls. Ray says the city then told her it would allow the pig, but required her to first get a prescription for therapy animal, then return to the doctor for another script that specified the animal needed to be a hypoallergenic pig.
Ray says the city wanted even more documentation -- such as her husband's allergy tests that would prove a cat or dog would not suffice -- but the allergist said that no pig-allergy tests existed and invoked HIPAA laws. Ray says she then told the city that if it did not give her a waiver, she would file a formal complaint with teh Department of Justice, and that within the month, she got her waiver. Ray reports that the pig and her son are both faring well. The pig is six pounds (could grow to 20) and uses a litter box.
Original story, published December 10, 2012: The story had every ingredient for a viral web hit: an outraged mother, a boy with Down syndrome, some feckless city bureaucrats, and one extremely cute pygmy pig.
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So it's no surprise that after the Sun Sentinel broke the news, the media pounced. The City of Coral Springs wouldn't allow Heather Ray's son, Kason, to have a pig named Twinkie because of a law against pet swine. Ray said she needed the pig as a therapy animal for the boy because both he and her husband are allergic to dogs.
The story exploded. CNN, The Huffington Post and The Daily News did stories last week, and soon the news reached Europe in Britain's Daily Mail. Hundreds of commenters trashed the town.
But one part never made it into print:
The City of Coral Springs claims it never tried to take away Ray's pig. Instead, several months ago, Ray inquired whether her son could own a pig, and the city told her it was against city code; city officials then forgot about the whole business, says Bob Goehrig, a city spokesperson.
Unbeknown to officials, Ray bought the pig anyway and launched an online petition against the anti-pig rules, netting hundreds of signatures. Soon, she was condemning Coral Springs to any reporter who would listen.
City officials became more and more flummoxed. "We never told her she couldn't have the pig," Goehrig says. "And we never knew she even had a pig until she told us. She came to us. We never knew. Then she bought one and called the newspapers. I don't get it."
Yet, even now, Ray maintains her side of the story: "The City of Coral Springs was against us having a therapy pet pig for our son," she wrote in an email to New Times.
As the story spread, death threats from across the globe came into Coral Springs. Goehrig got one the other day in his voice-mail.
"I can't believe you're doing this to this poor lady," an outraged Belgian squealed at him. "You should be killed! And we're going to kill you!"
And so, under such international scrutiny, the city did something it had already sort of done. It publicly announced Ray's son could keep a pig that no one had ever tried to take away.
The entire situation has bred distrust in Coral Springs. "I don't know what her end game is. It's very strange," says Goehrig. "Where does it stop? Will someone next want a therapy chicken?"
When they do, we're pretty confident the mainstream media will be all ears.
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