On Thursday, April 2nd 2015, Caesar — the beloved family pet of Anthony Gervasi — was sniffing around the end of the family driveway as he’d done many times before. Caesar was never destined for the dinner table. He was a pet who’d lived in the house with the family since he’d arrived, and he was have a grand time enjoying the day’s sunlight and scents.
Then a Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conservation officer shot him.
The distraught pet owner Mr. Gervasi, was later informed that the DNR officer hadn’t made a mistake. He was, quite literally, following orders — orders which include killing pets if they step off property.
An Unconstitutional Law
You see, in 2011 the state of Michigan passed the Invasive Species Order (ISO) which defined heritage breed pot-bellied pigs as a feral invasive species — with absolutely no exemptions for those raising heritage breed hogs for farming or preserve operations.
DNR’s main purpose in issuing the ISO was to put the private hog hunting preserves out of business. The department earns revenue by selling licenses to hunt hogs on public land; private game preserves … are unwanted competition.”
The Michigan Pork Producers Association (MPPA) also invested considerable time and money having the swine ISO become law.
Enforcing the ISO and the DR against heritage breed farmers raising their pigs in the outdoors would have meant more market share for the MPPA’s confinement operation members along with greater potential to eventually monopolize the genetics of swine in the longterm.
In 2012, I wrote about how several hog ranchers had banded together to sue the state of Michigan challenging the Invasive Species Order, and the good news is that they ultimately won.
In March of 2014, Judge Thomas Solka ruled that the Invasive Species Order was both unconstitutional and unenforceable because it arbitrarily described characteristic standards for what constitutes “feral swine” that would have put thousands of the state’s small farmers out of business. These so-called standards were so nebulous and indefinable that it was virtually impossible to know which hogs were legal and which ones were not. (source)
But the Michigan DNR is appealing this ruling, despite offering no better way to actually distinguish truly feral hogs from those raised in agricultural pursuits.
And in the meantime, they are still attempting to enforce the Invasive Species Order by arbitrarily killing pet pigs if they step off their owner’s property.
According to Peter Wright, a supervisor at the Michigan DNR, “it’s never ever, ever the department’s position that we want to shoot people’s pets. If [the conservation officer] had any inkling it was a pet he absolutely wouldn’t have shot it. But at that point he didn’t know that and he was just doing his job.” (source)
But just how was the officer supposed to distinguish between a pet and a feral hog when (thanks to Judge Solka’s ruling last year) there is currently no legal description for what constitutes a feral hog?
What is to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening in the future?
What can you do to derail this unfair enforcement of an unconstitutional state mandate?
Caesar’s owner, Mr. Gervasi, wrote a heart-felt letter to the Michigan Governor Rick Snyder asking him to rescind the Invasive Species Order Amendment No. 1 of 2011.
While his story has garnered some publicity, Mr. Gervasi’s letter represents one lone voice.
I believe he has the right idea, though. We need to pressure the Michigan DNR to drop their appeal, or in the very least flood Governor Snyder with requests to rescind the Invasive Species Order.
To that end, I’ve created a petition that you can sign that will automatically email the governor’s office for you from your email address.
This is the message that will be sent:
Dear Governor Snyder,
The Michigan Invasive Species Order Amendment No. 1 of 2011 and its accompanying Declaratory Ruling were declared unconstitutional and unenforceable by Judge Thomas Solka in March of 2014.
Nevertheless, this muddled law is still on the books, and the state’s Department of Natural Resources is using their authority given by the ISO to kill so-called “feral swine” (even if, as in the case of Mr. Anthony Gervasi, those hogs happen to be pets). As of June 2014, when current DNR Director, Keith Creagh rescinded the Declaratory Ruling that so poorly and ambiguously defined the meaning of “feral,” there has been no legal description of what the illegal pigs are. This gave rise to the outrageous situation we’re experiencing today, when pet owners need to fear that DNR officers may mistake their pigs for feral swine and kill them on sight.
I respectfully request that you consider following in Mr. Creagh’s footsteps by also rescinding the Invasive Species Order.
Just use the form below to sign!
(Note: In order to send Governor Snyder email from your email address, I need to confirm the email address you provide. Shortly after clicking the orange “Sign Now” button, you’ll receive an email from me with a confirmation link. Please click on that link to email the governor and sign the petition!)
Thank you so much for letting your renegade voice be heard! It’s time we put a stop to this egregious law. Not only does its continued existence threaten all heritage breed hog owners in Michigan, but its ambiguous enforcement procedures have resulted in the killing of pets.
(photo credit: tyler brebner)
Linda Kastler via Facebook says
Sooooo, does this mean that we can consider politicians as pet pigs and this then becomes applicable to them. Just sayin’.
Kim Vicklund via Facebook says
I signed the petition… please sign if you can.
Thomas Schroeder via Facebook says
Food Renegade is a good site. Justice 4 Caesar The Pot Bellied Pig is a local contact for updates. Help the Gervasi family if you can. The Michigan Small Farm Council helps farmers and gardeners in Michigan. The MI DNR and the Governor are out of control. The pork lobby has controlling influence in Lansing at this time. Solutions, will not come easily. Thank you for keeping this story in the spotlight. Respectfully,Tom.
Michigan Small Farm Council via Facebook says
Thanks for writing about this. Just to update you, DNR won their appeal.
Anna Powers via Facebook says
This when you give the government too much power. Unfortunately it’s not going to get any better.
i called the governor’s office when news of this bill first went public. i talked to an assistant who got very defensive.
“how would you feel” he asked me “if these hogs were destroying your natural resources and your old forests?”
“give me a break” i confronted him. “if you learned tomorrow that there was natural gas or oil or coal, under your precious forests, you couldn’t
frack under them fast enough. you know this is all about money. tell me that hogs fenced in on small farms are roaming the wilderness
destroying your forests!”
he had no answer
Meredith Amonson via Facebook says
Please take a look at This page and share it. Another court date is approaching for the severe animal neglect and public support and media attention is key.
Kelly Kindig via Facebook says
Michigan is severely lacking logic these days.
Danielle Schubert via Facebook says
that is terrible… 🙁
Aymee Bullington says
I signed the petition. Thanks for bringing this situation and issue back to the foreground. It appears to have fell of the map publicly (I hadn’t heard about this until now). I am sure that Caesar’s owners still feel the loss and are still battling for justice.
F. U. Sumbitch says
Has it ever occurred to the fools in Michigan Government the ALL swine in North America are invasive species. Pigs were introduced to the New World by Spanish explorers. The very definition and basis of the “so called” ISO is BS. Furthermore, if the most domesticated white swine escape into the wild, they will grow long hair, darken in color, and become leaner and tougher in only a few generations…which means that Michigan’s “legal” pig farms are the greatest potential source of “invasive feral swine”.
While control of feral swine is important to protect agriculture and livestock grazing, the Michigan ISO is obviously motivated by some as yet (publicly) unnamed political special interest group, and NOT on biology or agricultural concerns.
Now who has that much money and politically influence in the state?