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Madison city ordinance forces Rudi the pig to relocate after neighbor complains

Owner Paula Niedenthal says she was unaware of the ordinance when she bought Rudi in 2022

Signs saying "Save Rudi" are posted along Madison's Southwest Commuter bike path.
“Save Rudi” signs are posted along Madison’s Southwest Commuter bike path on July 19, 2023 after the owners of a miniature pet pig got a notice from the local health department, warning them the animal was illegal under city code. Shawn Johnson/WPR

A beloved Madison resident, known to bike path commuters and west side residents alike, is being evicted.

Rudi, a Juliana miniature pig, has called Paula Niedenthal’s backyard home since May 2022. He’s delighted bikers and walkers of all ages along the Capitol city’s busy Southwest Commuter bike path — but not anymore.

Niedenthal was notified on July 13 by Public Health Madison & Dane County that owning Rudi is against city law.

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The Madison ordinance prohibits the possession of pigs, boar or swine within city limits. Exceptions include pig cameos at permitted events and block parties.

Niedenthal said the visit from the public health department was the first time she’d heard of the ordinance. They also told her there had been a complaint from a neighbor.

She said Wednesday she wishes the person would have talked to her directly.

“If they had given me a heads up, I could have worked on this,” she said. “This is not supposed to be an emotional or activism moment, it’s something where you can address an ordinance … and we could have looked at it scientifically and carefully without all of the commotion.”

In nearby Middleton, city ordinances include an exception for domesticated pigs under 300 pounds.

Niedenthal and her husband Markus Brauer, both faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, were given one week to find a new home for Rudi. If not, they would be fined by the city.

“We have a small hobby farm in Juneau County,” Niedenthal said, “so I’m gonna take him up on Thursday and then stay there with him and work online until I have this resolved.”

Morgan Finke, communications coordinator for Public Health Madison & Dane County, said she didn’t have any information on the origin of the ordinance, just that it’s been in place since 2018.

The name of the neighbor who reported Rudi is not being released by the health department to protect their identity — as Rudi fans have taken to social media blasting the person who reported the pig.

One thread on Reddit suggested the person “needs to pack their stuff and leave Madison.” The UW-Madison College of Letters & Science even posted to their Facebook page announcing the “devastating news” that Rudi would need to move.

Others have taken to neighborhood listservs encouraging people to contact their alder to change the ordinance.

Alder Tag Evers represents the district next to Rudi’s. He said he’s had several people reach out to him asking what can be done to change the law.

He said he’s currently in the middle of conservations with other alders and the city to draft an update of the ordinance to allow pigs as pets.

“It’s apparent that municipalities and other parts of the country, including in nearby Middleton, have figured this out in such a way as to allow someone to keep a pig as a companion animal under specific circumstances, without undue or unfortunate consequences,” he said.

“I can’t say for sure, but I imagine that we will make a provision that will allow Rudi to stay in the neighborhood,” Evers continued.

Rudi still needs to be moved Thursday, as long as the current ordinance stands. In the meantime, some residents are asking the city to make an exception for this particular pig.

But Finke said an exception isn’t being considered and that the law needs to be applied equally.

“Ordinances are in place and we, as Public Health, must enforce them equally,” she wrote via email. “It is possible the ordinance itself could be changed, but that would have to go through the appropriate channels and processes via the City.”

Niedenthal said if the ordinance is updated, she’s hopeful Rudi will be able to return to his home by the bike path.

“When I got this pig, and it provided me with pleasure, I had absolutely no idea what it was going to do to put him outside and have other people see him,” she said. “Mostly he provides people with just joy.