A little more than a month ago, Belmont’s animal control officer got an anonymous letter: a pot-bellied pig had taken up residence on Belmont Hill.
“We were kind of in a bind. We really didn’t have a regulation that covered it,” said John Maguranis, Belmont’s animal control officer.
Belmont had regulations for pets like cats, dogs and ferrets; and for farm animals like horses and cows. The state prohibits pets like crocodiles, monkeys, venomous snakes, and endangered and threatened wildlife.
But the little pig was lawless.
“We just realized there was a gray area that wasn’t covered, and in order to protect the people in the town of Belmont from diseases, we ought to come up with something,” Maguranis said.
Now, the town of Belmont is poised to adopt a new set of exotic animal regulations. The Board of Health will hold a public meeting on the regulations on March 29.
“This is not to prevent these animals from coming to town,” said Belmont Board of Health chairman David Alper. “The purpose of these is number one, to ensure that people are safe; number two, that the animals have a safe living situation; and number three, that we know they’re in town.”
Belmont has had its share of unusual pets, said Alper: a horse lived for years in Waverly Square; llamas once lived on Belmont Hill; and one Belmont man used to take walks with an albino boa constrictor draped across his shoulders.
A flock of sheep and a herd of goats live in a habitat at the Mass Audubon’s Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary.
And in recent years, chickens have come into vogue – there are now about 30 private chicken owners in town, Alper said.
“We’re getting to be a little farming community here,” said Ellen O’Doherty, Health Department liaison to the Board of Health.
But Belmont regulations have not kept pace with the expanding variety of fauna.
“Today’s lifestyle, people have changed their opinions on what they’d like for domestic pets,” said O’Doherty.
The proposed regulations will require would-be exotic pet owners obtain a permit, said Alper. Maguranis will inspect the home where the pet will be living and make sure the animal has enough space and an acceptable habitat, and that it doesn’t pose a danger to the people living nearby. Some exotic animals need special vaccinations. The owner will be required to learn about how to safely care for their pet, and the permit will need to be renewed every year.
The regulations wouldn't ban pets like the pot-bellied pig, said Alper – they'd simply ensure that both humans and wildlife are safe and healthy.
As for the little pig, it is being allowed to stay, after its living conditions passed an inspection by Maguranis.
“The pig is indoors, it’s smaller than most dogs,” said Maguranis. “It snorted and grunted and it was really sort of cute.”
The owners had been very conscientious, he said – they did their research and had already gotten the pig the required vaccinations.
“The just did everything right, there was nothing wrong with having that animal in the house,” said Maguranis. “What you’ve got to worry about is someone getting 50 of them.”
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.