Last week, 65 year old James Sak, a disabled Vietnam Veteran and retired Chicago police officer, was forced to relinquish his service dog after the Town Council in Aurelia, IA, voted to prohibit the dog from living with him because the dog was a 'pit bull' and banned from the city limits.
Sak and his wife Peggy had just moved to Aurelia in November to live closer to Peggy's 87 year old mother because her health was failing.
Sak's dog, Snickers, of course came with them. Snickers is a service dog certified with the National Service Animal Registry. In 2008, Sak suffered a stroke that left him permanently disabled and unable to use the right side of his body and left him confined to a wheel chair. Sak sent 2 years working with a physical therapist to improve his functional capacities -- which included his getting Snickers who was specifically trained to help hiim with his disability (including helping him walk).
However, a small group of residents (really, what type of jerks are THESE people?) circulated a petition calling for Sak's service dog to be removed under the city's breed ban -- even though the dog has no history of aggression or nuissance complaints. And in an amazingly stupid move, the council agreed to do it.
Because he had no other options, Sak has been forced to pusue legal action agains the city of Aurelia -- in what is being called a "landmark case" for the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Eighteen months ago, the Department of Justice released its "Final Rule" on the Americans w/ Disabilities Act. The DOJ clarified that breed restrictions were not welcome under the ADA. You can read the entire section on breeds here, but here are a few highlights:
The Department does not believe that it is either appropriate or consistent with the ADA to defer to local laws that prohibit certain breeds of dogs based on local concerns that these breeds may have a history of unprovoked aggression or attacks. Such deference would have the effect of limiting the rights of persons with disabilities under the ADA....
Breed restrictions differ significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions have no breed restrictions. Others have restrictions that, while well-meaning, have the unintended effect of screening out the very breeds of dogs that have successfully served as service animals for decades without the history of the type of unprovoked aggression or attacks that would pose a threat....
State and local government entities have the ability to determine, on a case by case basis, whether a particular service animal can be excluded based on that particular animal's actual behavior or history -- not based on fears or generalizations about how an animal or breed might behave.
In spite of this, George Wittgraf, an attorneyrepresenting the city of Aurelia, stands by the city's law noting the city is "simply exercising its authority to protect and preserve the rights and property of its residents -- whether or not that's trumped by" federal law.
Um, good luck with that. I'm no lawyer, but this seems like a slam dunk case for Sak and Snickers.
Meanwhile, the whole case continues to being a flashing neon sign highlighting the ridiculousness of breed-specific laws. The law in his case is clearly targeting a dog and its owner that are not a problem, and a dog that is not aggressive. While the city spends the time targeting Mr. Sak, and the money to defend their "right" to do so, they are pulling resources away from dealing with aggressive animals in the community - -ie, animals that have actually acted aggressively.
Meanwhile, they have helped create an uneducated small group of ignorant people who think that its a dog's breed that makes it aggressive, regardless of the behavior of the dog. And in the process, taken aim at a new resident of the community who spent his entire life serving and protecting other people.
It's idiotic. And when you see false hysteria created in a situation like this it even further highlights that breed specific legislation isn't a fact-based idea -- it's one based on the powerful emotion of fear. Let's get back to the facts shall we? And focus on behavior, not breeds.
Special tip-of-the-hat to Animal Farm Foundation for their ability to help Mr. Sak -- and for providing a wealth of information about the case.