Hunting for housing with an odd pet

By Lindsay Friedman / Chicago Tribune

Published Aug 15, 2014 at 12:02AM

CHICAGO — If you think it’s difficult to navigate through the real estate market with a cat or large dog, try doing it with a pig at the end of the leash.

Just ask swine owners Jennifer and Matt Folino and their real estate agent, Rachel Teuer.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how hard it is for people who just have regular pets,” Teuer said. “I probably wouldn’t do this again unless I knew the clients really well.”

Before getting their unusual pet, the couple did their homework and decided that a teacup pig would be smarter, quieter and nicer smelling than a dog. Dubbed Linus, the pig joined two cats in the Folino fold.

But the Folinos outgrew their Andersonville apartment two years ago and searched for a bigger place. They soon discovered landlords were not as smitten by Linus as they were.

Sorting through the legal realms of private possession of exotic and wild pets was a challenge, too, considering laws vary on federal, state, county and city neighborhood levels.

Although Chicago’s and Cook County’s ordinances allow farm animals such as chickens or pigs as pets as long as there’s no intention for slaughter and the animal isn’t dangerous or maltreated, condominium associations and landlords balked at the mention of a pet pig on their properties, preferring nonanimal renters or more traditional pets such as cats, dogs, birds and rabbits.

Associations and landlords are legally allowed to impose stricter animal ordinances in addition to city, state and federal laws, as well as charge extra fees for pets.

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” said Scott Ballard, a biologist with the llinois Department of Natural Resources. “It falls under the responsibility of the owner. You’ve got to do your research before you get an animal.”

After looking at more than 40 apartments and condominiums in a matter of weeks, Jennifer was about to wave the white flag. Ready to find Linus a new home, she contacted his breeder in Kentucky and posted a listing online. From a Kentucky farm herself, she was used to the coming and going of animals.

“It was horrible,” she said. “I had a bit of a breakdown.”

Matt, on the other hand, wasn’t thrilled when he saw a listing for Linus’ adoption on Facebook. Despite their real estate woes, Matt felt the pig was family and it was staying put as far as he was concerned.

“I think Jen puts more emphasis that it’s stressful with the pig. I’m kind of just, ‘It’s going to work itself out,’” Matt said. “I think people may make it out to be a bigger deal. A lot of people just don’t know what it’s like to even have a pig.”

Nevertheless, Ballard said it’s very common for owners with unusual pets to face a rude awakening after the animal surpasses the “cute, baby stage” and owners realize how complicated it is to sort through the slew of ordinances. The department has collected animals considered both legal and illegal to own by state and federal standards, including owls.

“We’ve seen a bit of everything,” Ballard said. “It’s not cute anymore when it’s 100 pounds.”

Maurice Ortiz, agent and marketing director at Apartment People, said that in his 30 years of dealing in Chicago real estate he’s seen just about every type of pet, but has yet to deal with a pig. But there is good news, he said, because it’s not impossible to have an unusual pet in the city.

“It’s just a matter of finding the right landlord, and if you find that landlord and represent (the pet) in the right way, it’s certainly doable,” he said.

The Folinos lucked out two years ago and found a pig-friendly apartment in Edgewater. The neighborhood welcomed Linus for the most part as the Folinos took Linus on his daily walks, traveling about a block or two before his snorts would attract the attention of passersby.

Because Linus is so unusual, Jennifer said, it was easy for she and her husband to immediately feel like a part of the community, though they are confident more neighbors know Linus’ name rather than their own. Some folks even consider Linus the neighborhood mascot.

On a visit to Edgewater, Clarence Dudley of suburban Dolton was surprised to see a pig on a leash waddling down the sidewalk.

“I never expected to see anything like this,” Dudley said, as he snapped a photo.

Outside of Linus’ normal routine and training, all he needs during the day is a private room with a comfy bed, Cheerios and a TV.

Though Linus is a teacup pig, which are said to be miniature, he’s as hefty as a hog. At his last weigh-in, Linus tipped the scales at 60 pounds. He was running out of space in the apartment, and he huffed and puffed as he was led down a flight of stairs to be let out in cold weather.

At the same time, neighbors became concerned with Linus rooting around their plants in the flower beds. As problems mounted, the Folinos decided they need to buy a house to give their pig and cats more elbow room.

With Teuer’s help, the challenge to find a house expanded from the city into surrounding suburban areas, each with individual animal ordinances. The Folinos would have preferred to stay in Edgewater, but the rules for owning a farm animal are not as liberal for homeowners as it is for renters.

The Folinos found a spacious home in suburban Portage Park with enough rooms and a large basement connecting to the backyard. Having closed on the house in June, the couple expected to move to their home this month.

Now, the couple says, the neighborhood might have to change its name. “Porkage Park” would be a better moniker, they say.