If only Roger Anderson's pigs hadn't left the pen and wandered over to Karen Morse's place.

If only Morse had phoned Anderson before shipping the pigs to Freeport, Minn.Then Anderson wouldn't have called his attorney and the pigs would be back where they belong, wallowing in the mud.

But the pigs got out, Morse got upset, and now Anderson is trying to get even.

In one of the strangest legal disputes in Blue Earth County in years, the Lake Crystal-area farmer is suing his neighbor seeking compensation for 18 pigs she removed from her property last November.

"In my 25 years of practice I've never seen anything like it," said Jerome Anderson, an attorney representing Morse.

Said Bailey Blethen, the attorney for Roger Anderson, "I haven't had anything even come close to this."

At issue is whether Anderson's pigs caused damage to Morse's property and whether the 18 pigs returned to Anderson by court order more than two months later were the same ones Morse shipped away.

The dispute has only escalated tensions between Anderson and Morse, longtime neighbors who have been at odds with each other over a variety of issues through the years.

"We haven't been the best of buddies for some time," Anderson said. "Seems like there's always a squabble."

This one started in late November, when Anderson, a sweet-corn and melon farmer in the Minnesota River valley five miles west of Mankato, discovered that his 24 pigs had escaped from their pen about a half mile from his farmhouse.

He found six pigs wandering in a nearby field. The others had disappeared.

Several days later, he learned from neighbors that the pigs had wandered west to Morse's place. By that time, however, she had contacted several people about the animals, then shipped them off to an acquaintance almost three hours away.

Anderson called the county sheriff to investigate and inquired about criminal charges. When that got him nowhere, he called his attorney and followed up with legal action.

"The biggest thing is, if they can do that and get away with it, what else are they going to do?" he said.

Anderson's suit is based on a state law that stipulates that those discovering stray animals on their property give notice to the owner - if the owner is known - within 24 hours. Though Morse published a notice in the Lake Crystal newspaper, she did not contact Anderson, both attorneys said.

Morse declined to comment on the case this week. However, she has said in court documents that she got rid of the pigs after they had wandered about her property for several days. She said they damaged lawn furniture, ate feed for ducks and geese and destroyed an artesian well. She estimated damage at more than $4,700, primarily to cover the cost of drilling a new well.

Morse's statement said she did not know who owned the pigs. She said she has lived near Anderson for years and "never observed pigs on his property. I had no knowledge that Roger Anderson had any pigs."

But Anderson said this week that he's raised pigs in his spare time for years to earn extra money to send his children to college. "I just can't figure out why they did this," he said.

Initially, Anderson simply wanted the pigs returned. He deposited $621 with the court to cover the cost of feeding and caring for them while they were in Freeport. The issue of property damage was to be resolved in court once the pigs were returned.

But the case was complicated once the pigs were sent to a hog-buying station in Mankato for inspection.

Anderson said they weren't his pigs. The pigs returned, he said, were too small and too sickly and had to be destroyed. "They were a bunch of scrubs," he said.

Morse said the pigs returned to Anderson were the same ones she sent north. Morse's attorney said Morse has affidavits to prove it.

"We have a discrepancy," Jerome Anderson said.

Roger Anderson figures he already has paid more in legal fees than he'd have gotten for taking the pigs to slaughter.

Attorneys involved said this week that they hope the neighbors can resolve their differences and settle on compensation before July, when they are scheduled to appear in court before District Judge John Moonan.

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service