Jim Filipetti and Francesca Mantei never became household names.
But Snowball—the injured blacktail deer that Filipetti found on the side of the road and took home in 2001—became one of Oregon's most famous animals last year after state wildlife officials removed the doe from the Molalla couple's care.
The Oregonian, responding to readers' overwhelming sympathy for the couple, devoted nearly two dozen stories in 2007 to what the newspaper christened the "Snowball saga." TV and radio picked up the neat narrative pitting a family of animal lovers against a bunch of heartless and bumbling bureaucrats.
For Filipetti and Mantei, however, some animals are apparently more equal than others.
WW has learned that while the couple's affection for Snowball may know no bounds, it appears they feel differently about other animals.
In August, the couple and their family moved from Molalla. And the new owners of their home got more than the four walls and roof they bargained for: They also inherited a miniature animal farm that included a llama, peacocks, pigeons, roosters and three pot-bellied pigs later renamed Juanita, Bonita and Lolita.
Now, the fact that the family left their pets behind without finding new homes for them has gotten the goat of several Portland-area animal lovers.
"They're phony heroes," says Patty Hill, vice president of the Northwest Miniature Pig Association.
Hill is one of several people who responded to a Craigslist ad posted by a friend of the new homeowners seeking families for the Molalla menagerie.
On Sept. 1, Hill organized a "rescue." And what she found in the pen where Snowball once gamboled appalled her.
"They were so lethargic," Hill says. "Usually pigs will get up and just take off. But these pigs just laid there. They were sick."
Kit Collins, a Northeast Portland woman who runs Out to Pasture Animal Sanctuary in Estacada, also took part in the rescue. A year earlier she had backed the Molalla couple in their Snowball fight with the state.
"As a taxpayer, I am outraged to learn of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife wasting my money to remove Snowball…from the family in Molalla," Collins wrote in a letter published in The Oregonian on Sept. 14, 2007. "The family kindly rescued and rehabilitated Snowball when she was an injured fawn, at their own expense.… Fish and Wildlife needs to make an exception and grant this family a license to keep the deer."
Now, she says, she views the couple in a new way.
"These were the last people I would have expected to abandon animals," Collins says. "They sounded really nice. I thought, 'Oh, they're really wonderful. Most people would have just left the deer on the road.'"
As Collins spoke last Saturday, Juanita slept in the corner of her Estacada kitchen, rising only when enticed by a dangling banana. When 85-pound Juanita was rescued in September, she had a tumor that weighed at least 20 pounds.
"When we got her, she looked emaciated," Collins says. "The vet said she was either full of parasites or it was a tumor."
Bonita also appeared to have a tumor, so both pigs underwent surgery. Bonita didn't make it. Her belly wrap became loose in the night following the surgery, and after she opened one of the stitches, she died of internal bleeding at the vet's office.
Juanita recovered after being spoon-fed applesauce, while Lolita (the healthiest of the bunch) also rebounded quickly. Pigs usually get their hooves trimmed every four months, but none appeared to have had their hooves trimmed in quite some time, Hill and Collins say.
All told, the pigs' vet bills came to about $1,500.
As the pigs underwent surgery and slowly recovered, Filipetti and Mantei were continuing their legal battle to keep Snowball. This fall, their case went before the Oregon Court of Appeals with the help of noted animal-rights lawyer Geordie Duckler. The court sided with the state. But Duckler has said he plans to petition the Oregon Supreme Court for a review.
Matt Rossell of In Defense of Animals says he contacted Duckler in early October to ask the lawyer whether the couple was willing to contribute money to the pigs' care and to find out why they had left them behind. Rossell, who thought there might have been a mistake, says Duckler told him he'd get back to him. Two months later, he still hasn't.
"I would assume if there was a mix-up he would have bent over backward to clear it up," Rossell says. "This information could really jeopardize his clients' ongoing case with Snowball."
Duckler told WW on Monday Filipetti and Mantei had other animals in Molalla. But he did not know what happened to them after the couple temporarily moved out of state. "I'm assuming they're being taken care of," Duckler says.
Duckler said he would ask Filipetti to call WW. But as of press time Tuesday, Filipetti hadn't.
Rossell isn't ready to forgive.
"This is a complete snow job," Rossell says. "I really believe the public has a right to know. [Filipetti] had so many people rooting for him. And as it turns out, it appears he has really neglected these animals."
Filipetti and Mantei filed a civil suit in Clackamas County Circuit Court last year, alleging defamation of character because state officials had called the couple's actions illegal. No damages were awarded, but the state did issue an apology.
More photos of Lolita's new home in Estacada are online at outtopasturesanctuary.org.