One of my housemates had a pet Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Taylor. These cat-sized creatures were illegal as pets — they were livestock, according to The Man. We did not have whatever license or facilities one needed for raising farm animals, so belated apologies to the USDA.
As the grandchild of a Pennsylvania Dutch pig farmer, I felt a karmic need to atone for what my ancestors did to Taylor’s ancestors, so I made every effort to be nice to the little guy. My attempt at friendship was largely unrequited. He was wickedly intelligent, mischievous, and not particularly affectionate. An uneasy truce was the best I could broker with the porker.
It didn’t occur to us that Taylor couldn’t or wouldn’t hang up the phone. So, when no one was home, Taylor would answer calls, and the phone would be off the hook for the rest of the day. Callers either got pig sounds or busy signals. To this day, I blame my career slump at the time on Taylor driving away all the potential employers who tried to reach me. Training a pig to answer the phone turned out to be a horrible mistake, in addition to being just plain unnatural. Tensions in the house escalated.
And then Taylor got in a kerfuffle with a pit bull with a taste for bacon. While he (Taylor) miraculously survived, his face was permanently disfigured, resembling a porcine phantom of the opera. He became increasingly ornery and devious. Once, he broke into my room and ate all of my candles, and then — how to say — made new candles all over my floor. Sometimes I woke up to find him staring at me.
Through no fault of his own, Taylor became a lightening rod for conflict in the house, resulting in all manner of altercations and verbal Mexican standoffs between the six of us. I wish we’d had a mediator, because in the height of conflict, sometimes simple solutions evade us. For example, it never occurred to us to put the phone on a stand that Taylor couldn’t reach. Or close our doors to avoid a swine invasion. Rather, we had protracted arguments that became increasingly personal, and further away from creative (or obvious) solutions. Meanwhile, Taylor rubbed his cloven hooves together, à la Seinfeld’s Newman.
At New York Peace Institute, we get in the middle of all kinds of pet-related disputes — from post-break up cat custody, to dogs doing their business in community gardens, to the neighbor trying to sleep while a parrot is squawking obscenities next door. We haven’t yet seen a (literal) elephant in the room…and I eagerly await a case involving the sewer alligators of urban legend.