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Elvis Pigsley, at your service

All you pedigreed pooches on a mission for mankind better watch out.

Elvis Pigsley’s in town, and you ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog.

The 9-month-old therapy pig in training may not have such a lofty title as “man’s best friend,” but he uses a litter box and doesn’t shed.

“If you keep them in a clean environment, they stay very clean,” said Elvis’ trainer, Alisha Doolittle, 15.

“They’re cleaner than teenagers,” Alisha’s mother, Cyndie Doolittle, added in a stage whisper – provoking a grunt from Elvis.

Yes, the 35-pound Vietnamese potbellied pig has a gift for gab. He sings, too, but this Elvis is no Presley.

One might expect the King to be his idol, but Elvis Pigsley favors the crooners: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Bing Crosby. Even Glen Campbell.

While he’s no guard hog, Elvis enjoys chasing along the fence line and “barking” at the mail carrier, Cyndie Doolittle said.

“The mailman loves it,” she said. “He says it’s refreshing to get chased by something other than a dog.”

That’s all in fun, of course.

Cyndie Doolittle thinks Spokane needs to be more attuned to service animals, whose use is protected by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Instead, she said, city regulations say “a pig is a pig is a pig.”

Elvis is on his best behavior when in public learning social skills, whether training on the stairs of the downtown library, shopping at Shadle Center or cruising the neighborhood, Cyndie Doolittle said.

He turns heads wherever he goes.

At a Safeway store, the Doolittles got a free 2-liter bottle of pop because a flabbergasted clerk overlooked her obligation to ask for a dollar to fight multiple sclerosis.

“She was too busy petting the pig,” Alisha Doolittle said.

“It’s funny,” her mother said. “People just like petting a pig.”

It’s a bit like rubbing a hair brush but reportedly is good for reducing blood pressure.

Some of the Doolittles’ neighbors in the 2000 block of West Mallon have started watching for Elvis’ twice-daily perambulations, Cyndie Doolittle said.

“It’s that hooker walk he has,” Alisha said. “He walks on his tiptoes, and he swings his hips.”

The family dachshund, Peanut, taught Elvis to walk on a leash when he was still a piglet. Trigger, Cyndie Doolittle’s black Lab, is a guide dog.

“All of our animals are service animals except for the ferrets (Bandit and Sleepy),” said Doolittle, who is blind.

“Most people say, ‘Oh, it’s not a service animal if it’s not a dog,’ ” but lots of animals can be taught to do useful tasks, Doolittle said.

For example, she said, a Spokane man has a ferret trained to keep him from losing his keys.

Another Spokane man has a service snake he says helps him avoid seizures. “I guess the snake just kind of nips and lets him know it’s time to sit down,” Doolittle said.

“It’s a big old boa constrictor,” her daughter chimed in. “We saw him on the bus and got into a conversation – pig against snake. The poor bus driver.”

The snake wraps around its owner and burrows into his baggy clothing, Cyndie Doolittle said. “Most people don’t know it’s there.”

Elvis could help open refrigerators and cabinets if anybody needed that, but the Doolittles “piggy-proofed the house” with latches.

They believe Elvis’ talent lies in spreading cheer and advancing the cause of service animals.

He’s already appeared at a preschool and nursing home, the Doolittles said. A library presentation is in the works, and Elvis has offered to sell kisses for a charity.

Alisha said she is preparing Elvis for a course that could lead to a “good citizen’s award,” opening the door to more training and certification as a service animal.

The Doolittles believe certification will overcome Spokane’s ban on livestock except in agriculturally zoned areas. Meanwhile, they said they’ve “registered” Elvis with SpokAnimal, which handles city animal control, as a service animal in training.

That was news to SpokAnimal Director Gail Mackie, who said there is no such registration procedure.

“I believe the zoning code says a pig is a pig is a pig, and they’re not allowed in city limits,” Mackie said. “We don’t authorize anybody to have an illegal animal.”

If SpokAnimal finds one, “we turn that over to code enforcement,” Mackie said.

Heather Trautman, the city’s code enforcement supervisor, had a similar view. A service animal “still would need to be an animal that’s permitted in the zone in which you live,” she said. “Let’s say you trained a tiger. Would that mean you could have a tiger as a service animal?”

But Trautman’s office defers to the City Attorney’s Office, which takes a cautious approach.

“We’ve always been very generous with the type of animals” allowed to be service animals, Assistant City Attorney Michael Piccolo said. “We’re not looking to get into any trouble with the (U.S.) Department of Justice.”

He said the ordinance on service animals mirrors state and federal regulations, and doesn’t rule out any species.

The ordinance defines a service animal as one “trained for the purposes of assisting or accommodating a disabled person’s sensory, mental or physical disability.”

It doesn’t address the type of animal or training, and federal law doesn’t allow much room for inquiry about the animal’s service, Piccolo said.

He said he’s never seen a case that didn’t involve a dog.

While the city is prepared to accept some other species, Piccolo thinks an inherently dangerous animal “would be a whole different ballgame.”

Although Piccolo is reluctant to draw a distinction between animals that provide “therapy” and those that perform a service, dog trainer Pat Moberly thinks a line is needed. She encourages people not to push the “therapy” envelope in ways that may close doors for service animals.

“When it works it’s a beautiful thing,” Moberly said. “It truly is … but it’s a really messed up system right now. It’s pretty frustrating.”

Federal law doesn’t require certification for service animals, but Moberly said some businesses sell certificates with little or no training. And some well-trained animals have no certificates, she said.

Moberly works through a local business called Diamonds in the Rough – one of the places the Doolittles may take Elvis for his “good citizen award.”

However, Moberly said the award is offered by the American Kennel Club – for dogs only. It’s the Canine Good Citizen award.

Still, Moberly said Diamonds in the Rough and other animal-training organizations will give pigs and exotic animals similar training – in basic good manners, such as obeying commands and not chasing other animals.

But good behavior and a doctor’s “prescription” for a therapy animal can’t turn a comforting pet into a service animal, Moberly said.

An animal’s service should be “videotapeable,” she said.

“It’s just not enough that a dog makes you feel better,” Moberly said. “People want that to be enough.”

Some don’t, of course.

Take, for example, many of the passengers on a six-hour US Airways flight from Philadelphia to Seattle in October 2000.

Two women who said they had a doctor’s note allowing them to take a 13-pound pig on the plane arrived with what witnesses described as a 300-pound hog that required four people to wheel it aboard.

“Frankly, I couldn’t tell what kind of therapeutic service it was providing,” one passenger told the Philadelphia Daily News. “All I know is it was ugly and it pooped.”

Now, though, the Department of Justice is rethinking the philosophy that allowed pigs to fly.

According to the department’s ADA Web site, people with “impairments” that wouldn’t qualify as “disabilities” are “claiming that their animals are legitimate service animals” to get the animals into hotels, restaurants and other public places.

Currently, the ADA defines a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.”

A draft of proposed amendments to the ADA, published in the Federal Register, says few people anticipated the 1990 legislation would lead to pigs, miniature horses, snakes and iguanas as service animals.

The proposed changes would spell out that therapy animals are not service animals. Reptiles, rabbits, ferrets, amphibians, rodents and “farm animals” would be banned.

That includes horses, goats and, yes, pigs.