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Save Wilbur the Staten Island Pig From Eviction, Locals Say

By Nicholas Rizzi | January 26, 2017 4:37pm
 The family called on the city to grant an exemption to the rule and keep Wilbur in Great Kills.
Wilbur the Pig
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GREAT KILLS — Wilbur the 180-pound pig is being forced to leave his Staten Island home.

The Juliana pig, whose owner says acts as a service animal for her father as he goes through cancer treatment, has been living in the Great Kills home for five years.

But Wilbur got an eviction notice in August. City rules ban keeping pigs in homes.

Since then, 10,000 people have signed a petition that Wilbur be allowed to stay and a letter has been signed by two state senators and four assemblymembers begging the city to give the pig a pardon.

"He's like my child," said Cristy Matteo, who owns the pig.

"He's very caring, he's very clean."

State Sen. Tony Avella, who's running to replace Bill de Blasio as mayor,  joined Matteo at home Thursday to ask the city to let Wilbur stay.

He was involved in another battle to save a Queens porcine, Petey, three years ago. It's unclear if that campaign was successful.

"I am sick and tired of fighting this battle, year after year, with the city of New York simply asking them to change their policy," said Avella, who introduced a measure in Albany to overturn the pig ban in 2013.

"These animals are used as service animals, they help individuals who may have emotional distress or physical ailments, as in the case of [Matteo's] father."

Pet pigs are banned in the city for reasons including aggression and a lack of a USDA-approved rabies vaccination for them, the Department of Health said.

"The Health Department has been working with Wilbur’s owner for a year now and we will continue to work with her as she transfers Wilbur to a sanctuary," a spokeswoman for the agency said in a statement.

"While we can appreciate how emotional this issue can be, the Health Department’s primary role is to protect public health."

The mayor's office did not respond to a request for comment.

"Tearing this animal from his home would be a heartbreaking outcome based on an archaic, non-essential regulation," the letter signed by the Staten Island politicians reads.

Matteo said she always wanted a pig and bought Wilbur from a breeder in Utah five years ago. He spends most of his days sleeping in her living room or palling around with her dog, Milo. He goes outside three times a day.

After her father was diagnosed with cancer, Wilbur's presence helped lower his stress during treatment and he was recognized as an "emotional support animal" by his doctor, Matteo said.

"As soon as my father would walk into the house, Wilbur would lay down in front of him and my father would just rub his belly for an hour," she said.

"Getting his mind off the radiation treatment that he just went through all day."

The DOH said that pigs aren't recognized as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

After a complaint was made against the animal, the DOH ordered Matteo in August to find a new home for Wilbur by Jan. 31, according to the agency. The DOH said Matteo agreed to relocate Wilbur to a sanctuary.

However, Matteo said she worries about the effect of the move on Wilbur because he's been with her family his whole life.

"It would kill him, he would die of depression," she said. "He's used to belly rubs and kisses."