Arnold is on a diet.
Because she’ll eat anything, including dog food. Her belly almost drags the ground, and so does her chin. Her grandmother can't help but spoil her.
Arnold is a pot-bellied pig.
She enjoys sunbathing and apples and sleeping. To her owners, she is a pet. One that rolls over when you pet her belly. One they’ve taken to the mall on a pink leash.
But to the neighborhood homeowners association here in Warren County, she is livestock. She’s a hog who doesn’t belong in their community. So the pig who spends most of her time sleeping finds herself in the middle of a legal battle. A legal battle with multiple lawsuits that raise questions of culture and heritage and who gets to define what a pet is.
On a sunny March morning, Rick Price is in his home office on a Zoom call. His wife, Katherine Price, is upstairs. Arnold is laying on a Christmas tree skirt in the living room, next to a box of ornaments that had been taken down, but not put away.
While the dog is barking, Arnold is snoring. She does this a lot.
Yes, Arnold is a girl. But she had to be named after Arnold Ziffel, a famous pig from the 1960s-era television show “Green Acres.” It was the reason Rick agreed to get a pig. Katherine, 37, had never seen the show. She didn’t care what the animal’s name was, she just wanted a pig. She wanted something to remind her of where she came from.
But while Arnold Ziffel became a beloved part of television history, this Arnold has been more polarizing.
Here in their community near Springboro, where homes are still being constructed, the HOA sued the Price family, asking for a temporary restraining order to remove the pig. Attached to the lawsuit was what looked like a paparazzi photo of Arnold in the backyard.
In response, the Prices filed a federal lawsuit alleging discrimination because of Katherine’s heritage. The family attached several news articles from Asia depicting pigs as pets. And they noted HOA rules permit “dogs, cats and other domestic household pets.”
Katherine Price was born in Vietnam, and she left the country when she was almost 6 years old.
When she came to America, she remembers a teacher showing her a strawberry. She had never seen one before. She remembers going to Jungle Jim’s and excitedly pointing out the strawberries to her mom. Her mom didn’t know what they were.
Her parents never mastered English, and they made their daughter speak Vietnamese when she got home from school. They didn’t want her to forget where she came from. Even now, Katherine’s mom calls her pig Nemo, because she can’t pronounce Arnold as easily.
“I was stuck in the middle,” Katherine said.
For most of her life, her name was Cam Nhung Thi Nguyen. In first and second grade, Katherine remembers students poking her to ask where she was from. When she told them, they asked if Vietnam was another planet.
They asked if she was an alien.
As she got older, people assumed she was Chinese. She remembers getting into a fight in middle school because of it. Most kids feared her, though, and she remembers students moving out of her way in the hallway.
Because they had watched Bruce Lee movies, she said.
In Vietnam, Katherine’s family had several dogs to protect their home, but the family pig was their pet. A pet she had to leave behind when she came to America. A pet she cried about. A pet she mourned, even though it wasn’t dead.
She bought Arnold a few days after Thanksgiving in 2018. When Arnold was younger, Katherine dressed her in a pink sweater and took her to the nail salon in her purse. The family used to bathe her in the laundry room sink, and as she’s gotten bigger, they use a shower scrubber they originally bought for themselves.
On this day in March, Arnold wakes up when Katherine walks downstairs to greet a reporter. The pig with white hair and black spots stumbles to her hooves. Katherine rubs her belly, and she immediately plops back down on the floor. Except immediately isn’t the right way to describe it, because there was nothing immediate about it.
It’s easy to imagine someone shouting “timber” as the pig toppled to the ground.
Katherine, who works as a nail professional, continues to pet her belly. When she hits her spot, a spot every pet owner is familiar with, Arnold rolls onto her back. She stays there, belly exposed, until the petting stops.
Eventually, Arnold lumbers to the back door. The Prices let her outside, and she shoves her pink snout into the grass. Then, she lays down next to the bushes by the pool. And snores.
When the legal drama surrounding Arnold landed Katherine on the news, her next-door neighbor was surprised.
“I didn’t know you had a pig,” Katherine recalled her neighbor saying. “I thought it was a rock.”
The HOA called the Prices’ lawsuit frivolous. The group’s attorney said he didn’t know Katherine was from Vietnam, where dogs – not pigs – are stacked in food markets and sold as food. The attorney said he didn’t even know Rick was married.
Outside, Katherine stands on her deck watching Arnold. She is smiling. Because the pig reminds her of home. It reminds her of who she is. It also reminds her what it means to be a minority in America. It reminds her why she took summer classes so she could graduate high school early.
In some ways, Arnold is a reminder that she will always feel stuck in the middle.