Kason Ray smiled big Friday as he played with Twinkie, his pet pig. The 8-year-old boy’s family in Coral Springs considers Twinkie a domesticated lifesaver.
“She's very calming to him,” said Heather Ray, whose son has Down syndrome. “He'll scoop her up and love on her and pet on her. He really interacts with her so well.”
But keeping the pig is against a city ban on livestock. Heather Ray said she was denied a waiver to keep Twinkie, but said she hasn’t been kicked out.
"It's important for us to have something for Kason that he feels accepted," Ray said. "This animal loves him no matter what."
Twinkie helps Kason get through his days. It's something psychotherapist Alina Gastesi-de Armas recommends.
"The unconditional love a pet gives them allows them to grow and to have empathy," Gastesi-de Armas said. "People are sometimes not as open to their needs as a pet might be."
In keeping the pig, the Ray family invokes the American Disability Act, a law that gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities that are like those provided to individuals on the basis of race, sex, national origin and religion.
Even though the city told the Ray family they could not keep their pig, the ordinance hasn’t been enforced, the family said. It is something the family said it is happy about.
"If we do get fined or get notices to get rid of her, then we will go to the Department of Justice and take it one step further," Ray said.
Why not get a cat or dog? Kason's father is allergic to them, and Twinkie doesn't make anyone cough or sneeze, the family said.
In Volusia County, a 2-year-old autistic boy and his family are facing a similar problem – using animals to help cope with everyday life, while breaking a city code.
"It doesn't take into consideration the uniqueness of each person's situation," Gastesi-de Armas said. "This child obviously has a great deal of fondness for this pet and hopefully people will take that into consideration when they make their decision."