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Sunday, January 14, 2001

This little piggy could stay home

Coverage prompts groups to help Concord family clean their yard so the city won't take away Hamlet, a 300-pound potbellied pig


CONTRA COSTA TIMES

By Jack Chang
Times Staff Writer

CONCORD -- Bobby and Sierra-Sue Greenways' 15-minute brush with fame started at 6 in the morning and lasted 14 hours.

The couple had lived a low-profile life until then, coping with their problems as most people do--behind closed doors.

But when Concord threatened to remove the couple's pet, a 300-pound potbellied pig named Hamlet, because of zoning code violations, the Greenways went public with their story.

On Jan. 4, they got more than they had asked for.

Triggered by a Times story about the pig that morning, six television news crews knocked on the Greenways' door starting at 6 a.m. They filled the cramped house near Meadow Lane with lights, cameras, and studiously sympathetic reporters.

The crews made an extremely obese, nearly blind pig struggle to a standing position. They aired video of the junk in the Greenways' front and back yards. KTVU launched an opinion poll on its Web site seeking comments on whether the couple were abusing their pig.

A week later, the news coverage has died down, but Sierra-Sue Greenway said she still feels the emotional effects of the media blitz.

Mostly, she feels betrayed by the media and the mocking tone they adopted, the 44-year-old woman said.

"It was a sensational news ratings story," she said Thursday as her hulking pig slept at her feet under a blanket.

"It was a circus. They didn't take into account that it was his or my life.

"They found it humorous, but I take this very seriously."

KTVU reporter Kim Yonenaka stands by her story, which was the first about the pig to air.

"We made no jokes about it," Yonenaka said.

"I just presented the story and did that very conscientiously because she was so upset over the pig and she was crying."

Aiming to get Hamlet on the Oakland-based station's 7 a.m. morning show, Yonenaka and her crew awoke the Greenways before dawn and gave them two minutes to get ready for the cameras, Greenway said.

News crews camped out on the couple's front yard until 8 that night, she said.

"When they're getting calls between 4 and 5, you're waking someone up and it's borderline rude," Yonenaka said.

"It's a fine line, definitely. In the case of the pig, I said, 'Why not?' She can just say no or not answer the door."

Greenway initially welcomed the attention.

After unsuccessfully appealing to news organizations for the past few months, she saw the sudden media coverage as a wish finally granted, she said.

Even after seeing what Greenway felt was KTVU's condescending story in the morning, she continued to let cameras into her house, she said.

"I didn't enjoy a minute of it," Greenway said.

"But I was afraid to turn anybody away because I kept thinking, 'What if the person I turned away was the one to help my baby?'"

If anything, Greenway said, the experience taught an important public relations lesson.

"Think before you say anything," she said.

"Just watch yourself."

But Greenway admits the news coverage has drawn offers of help from pet-owner groups, the local Libertarian Party--which opposes nearly all government intrusion into personal rights--and even the couple's mail carrier, Tina Green.

"I thought it was too cool," Green said about the news coverage while stopping by the house Thursday. "Whatever happens, Sue, I hope you win."

On Saturday, Libertarian Party representative Frank Manske, Voices For Pets President Leroy Moyer and about a dozen other volunteers helped the Greenways clean up their property, which has been a target of city abatement orders for months.

"We're trying to see that Hamlet continues to live in the home of the family, whatever that takes," Moyer said.

"If the other problems are taken care of, the city won't have an interest in just the pig."

On Wednesday, the city declared the property a public nuisance, said Lon Carlston, a city neighborhood preservation specialist.

It is seeking a court warrant to remove Hamlet, he said.

The city's abatement order cites broken windows, faulty plumbing and trash on the property. It also asserts the Greenways have violated city codes that prohibit livestock on properties smaller than 20,000 square feet.

"I don't want to hurt the pig, not in any way," Carlston said.

"Our intent is to get it to a good home where people will take care of it the way it should be taken care of."

On Thursday, Moyer paid Danville veterinarian Nolan Sharp to look at Hamlet and recommend a weight-loss plan.

With arms crossed, Sharp studied the pig, which was vainly trying to walk backward as great pockets of its fat dragged on the living room's shag carpet.

Hamlet suffers from a thyroid deficiency that has depressed his metabolism and sparked the intense weight gain, Sharp said.

The pig could suffer a heart attack at any moment if he does not quickly lose weight, he said.

"He's not the biggest I've seen, but he's large," Sharp said.

"He's about to break down that back and rupture a disc. I give him only a 10 percent chance that he's going to lose any weight, so the prognosis is grave. These pigs are so cute at first, and their owners keep feeding them. They spoil them with kindness