Instead of tending their expansive green lawns, some residents of the once-quiet village of Marston in western Carroll County are contending with deep ruts, agitated earth and hoof prints from a herd of roaming pigs.
The snorting, squealing pigs, some as hefty as 300 pounds, have devoured or trampled the landscaping, even dented the siding on homes and caused a commotion in the tranquil countryside.
"I came here for the million-dollar view, and I love it here, except for the pigs," said Agnes Lerp, a diminutive woman who has taken to chasing pigs with a broom or rake. "The pigs are here every day, messing up the trees and flowers. I used to have grass, now I don't."
The first time Nancy Boone spotted a sow and several piglets rooting through her shrubs, she thought "how cute" and snapped photos. The porcine family comes so often now that the family dogs don't even bark at them. She keeps a daily calendar of pig sightings, in case she has to seek legal recourse.
"These pigs are wreaking havoc on the land, literally rooting away our yard," Boone said. "I have ruts up to my knees. If they are here, they are turning dirt over, roaming around looking for food. These poor animals have no food, and that is why they keep coming here. They should be confined in a pen and fed pig chow."
The neighbors have called the county sheriff, the Humane Society of Carroll County and the nearest farmer, who says the pigs are not his. They have asked the county to convene its Right to Farm committee, an arbitration panel that has only met once in its nearly 10-year history - to address a noisy bevy of peacocks. All the other times neighbors and farmers resolved their complaints before going to arbitration.
The committee has notified the farmer identified by the neighbors as the owner of the pigs and requested a response within 30 days. Members will schedule a hearing early next year, said Bill Powel, county liaison to the three-member committee.
"We really were not sure if this one was a right-to-farm or a trespass issue," Powel said. "But we have had at least six requests from Marston residents, and we are going to meet."
The farmer did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The sheriff's department is aware of the problem but fairly inept at catching pigs.
"We are not ignoring the problem, but the pigs are fast, and we are not equipped to catch them," said Col. Bob Keefer. "If we could catch one, we would take it into custody and call the proper authority."
That would be the Humane Society, whose officers were in Marston several days last week trying to retrieve pigs and assorted other livestock.
"We put 20 pigs back in an enclosure [Thursday], and we have also dealt with llamas and goats,"said Nicky Ratliff, Humane Society director. "This is taking up a lot of our inspectors' time, but for now we have no alternative. Animal control is not just about dogs and cats."
A few of the more exasperated neighbors have shot at the pigs. Lerp said one felled and butchered pig was reportedly none too meaty nor tasty.
"Shooting won't teach pigs a lesson," Boone said. "They just come back looking for food."
The Humane Society tried dog traps. The crafty pigs quickly figured out how to reach the food by tilting over the devices and mangling them so badly they were no longer usable to snare errant dogs.
"Pigs are generally smart, and only the dumber ones went into the traps," Ratliff said. "The others caught the food and left."
So the society staff devised a larger, pig-proof trap and placed it in Lerp's yard. When Lerp spots a pig, she prods it into the trap with a rake, slams the door and calls an animal inspector. The inspector hauls the trapped animal to the society's shelter in Westminster, where it is fed and housed for at least five days.
"We got a 200-pound sow with three piglets," said Brian Rupp, Carroll's chief animal control officer. "They quieted down, since they came here, probably because they get regular meals and water. We will hold them here for a while, but who wants to adopt pigs?"
So far, no one.
Thirteen unclaimed pigs have ended up at the county livestock auction, where they brought less than $400, not a hefty price for all the trapping, traveling and housing, Ratliff said.
When a county official facetiously suggested a massive public barbecue, Ratliff replied, "These pigs are not corn fed and wouldn't taste good. I think a few residents have found that out."
When not feasting on neighboring lawns, the pigs are often spotted in the farmer's nearby pasture grazing with cows.
Hunger should make them easy to catch, said Franklin Feeser, who runs a large pig operation near Taneytown.
"This is really not normal practice for raising pigs," Feeser said. "These are wild animals, not the kind that I would serve to anyone. They are scavengers eating grass and whatever else they can find."
The poorly fenced pasture provides the animals gaps to wiggle through. Even without fence holes, pigs can easily use their snouts and dig their way to freedom.
"They can wiggle their whole bodies through a small hole or dig under the fence," Lerp said. "I have watched them."
Rupp agreed. "Fencing is a big issue with pigs. They can rout down and get out. Then, they will tear up a yard looking for grubs."
The farmer who owns the pasture and cows has told police and neighbors that the pigs are not his. So the animals continue to wander.
"We have caught as many as we could," said Lerp. "But the remnants of the herd continue to plague the neighborhood. We have done everything humanly possible to be good neighbors. It is sad to come to this point."
Boone is hoping for a resolution and planning to reseed her lawn in the spring, a job that cost her nearly $5,000 two years ago.
"These pigs are literally rooting away our yard, and they are doing it because they are hungry," she said. "Our yard will have to be dug up in the spring and reseeded at a cost of thousands. It is like we are throwing money away. We will never recover the damages."