Breed Specific Legislation Laws (BSL) have become a growing trend amongst cities trying to ban “bully breeds” from their city limits. A city ordinance which bans pit-bulls in the city of Aurelia, Iowa has caught national attention after the ban kept a service dog from his owner because of his breed. The ordinance was approved in March of 2008 when a meter reader was bitten by a pit bull. Due to the fact that several people felt unsafe and that the breed was labeled as being “aggressive” (which is only a matter of opinion rather than fact) the ban was placed which prohibits owners of the breed from having them within the city limits.
The owner of the dog in question is a disabled 64 year old Vietnam Veteran named Jim Sak. He served for over 30 years on the police force in the city of Chicago, Illinois. Now that Jim has retired both he and his wife Peggy have relocated to Aurelia so that they could be closer to help Peggy’s mother who is an ailing 87 year old woman.
Jim is now struggling to live his daily life due to the fact that an ordinance passed in the city prohibits him from having his service dog “Snickers” simply because he happens to be a pit bull mix. Snickers, has been with Jim for five years and is certified through the National Service Animal Registry. The Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities by giving them the right to own a service dog regardless of their breed. Snickers happens to be a Boxer, Labrador and Pit Bull mix, but the fact that he is mixed with the banned breed has started a storm of problems for Jim and Peggy.
According to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times, several area residents signed a petition asking the city to enforce the pit bull ban against Jim’s service dog. Jim was ordered to remove his dog from the city limits after a meeting with the council on December 14, 2011. The vote was 3 to 2 to make no exceptions for the service dog. Jim’s wife Peggy was quoted as stating, “I had to get him out of the house by the next day. That dog has never been away from us a night in his life. He’s the sweetest, most good-natured dog you’d ever want to meet,” she said. After the meeting, Jim was quoted as saying “I left the meeting and threw up on the street outside the place. I can’t stop crying.” Peggy stated, “It’s terrible. I’m afraid to leave him. My mother is now helping take care of Jim because the dog isn’t here to help him.”
Jim was forced to send his companion to a veterinarian’s kennel just outside of Aurelia due to threats by the city to seize and destroy Snickers. In the article Jim is quoted stating, “I can’t believe they didn’t even try to talk to us. They just said, ‘No. You’re not having him. He’s outlawed in this town.'”
Peggy told the Chicago Sun-Times she was appalled and embarrassed by the town she grew up in and that they have made their life a living hell since they arrived. Peggy and Jim were unaware of the city’s ban on pit bulls when they before they moved there. She said that the idea was talked about in Chicago, but never implemented.
Jim suffered from a hemorrhagic stroke three years ago that causes him to have spasms on his right side affecting both his hand and leg. He said that it occurs from doing more activity than he should, or during times of stress. He is forced to use a wheelchair 95 percent of the day due to his disabilities. Snickers is a service dog and trained to sit next to Jim when he needs assistance and waits for the command on what he is told to do. Snickers will usually be the one who goes to alert Jim’s wife so that she can help him to get back into his chair. Jim stated in an article for MSNBC “If I fall on my back I’m a turtle. I just don’t move.” he explained, “I grab that collar…He’ll pull me over by the table and chairs and I can pick myself up.” He says Snickers is very well trained, and has never hurt anyone. “He has never even growled at anybody. The kids come home from school and would stop and play with him.”
The Sioux City Journal reported that said Snickers’ presence allows Jim to be left at home for Peggy to go take care of her mother. Since Snickers has been gone, Peggy has had to leave Jim at home alone with no one to assist him. Jim has reportedly fallen once, and an emergency call was made to 911 for assistance.
The Animal Farm Foundation (AFF) caught wind of Jim’s story and has stepped in to assist him with the lawsuit he is filing against the city. The non-profit which is based out of New York that focuses on rescuing and finding homes for dogs labeled as pit bulls has also agreed to assist in helping with the boarding fees and attorney fees for Jim’s dog during this process.
Kim Wolf who is the Community Engagement Specialist for AFF stated, “Officer Sak dedicated his life to serving others and protecting the public. Now it’s our turn to protect him. We are hopeful that the federal court will recognize this service dog as essential for keeping Officer Sak safe and out of harm. This dog has been extensively trained and has already proven capable of assisting with these tasks, without posing any risk to the public safety. The dog’s physical appearance has no effect on his ability to keep Officer Sak safe and secure.”
Kim also stated that, “This case has the potential to set a precedent for many others. The number of aging and/or disabled people in America is larger than ever, and service dogs can be an essential tool for this population. The right to live independently and safely is a cherished freedom, so the world is watching Iowa to make sure this freedom is not compromised because of a service dog’s breed or physical appearance.”
A motion for a preliminary injunction has been filed in U.S. District Court within Sioux City, Iowa which provides references to the protections for service dogs under the ADA. The injunction also asks for a Judge to declare the ordinance in Aurelia to be in violation of the ADA’s protection for service animals regardless of their breed.
A decision is also pending in order to decide whether or not Snickers will be returned to Jim.
Jim told KTIV news in Sioux City, “It’s going to hurt. I’m not even going to lie about that. I am going to feel really bad that he’s not here. He belongs here with me. He’s supposed to help me.”
Jim’s dog has also suffered due to being separated from him. It has been reported that Snickers is now beginning to lose his hair, and the stress of removing him from his home has caused Snickers to become covered in hives on his underside.
Until Jim’s attorneys are given the clearance to authorize him to bring his dog back home, Snickers is currently residing in a foster home 250 miles outside of the city of Aurelia to protect him from being harmed in any way.
Jim’s ending statement to MSNBC was quoted as saying, “In 1968 I came back from Vietnam, and when I got off the plane at O’Hare field and walked through the terminal, I got spit in my face from coming back from Vietnam. And right now they’re spitting in my face again.”
The hearing has been scheduled for December 28, 2011 at 9:00 am (central time) at the United States District Court, Northern District of Iowa (320 Sixth Street, 3rd Floor Courtroom, Sioux City, Iowa 51101).
Animal Farm Foundation will be at the December 28 hearing and available for interviews. If you would like to assist the Animal Farm Foundation in this case, please contact Kim Wolf at (845) 418-0778 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
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MSNBC (December 25): http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45787953/ns/local_news-des_moines_ia/t/dog-concerns-city-sued-after-banning-service-dog/?fb_ref=.TvimtQFLNEp.like&fb_source=profile_oneline
NBC Sioux City (December 23): http://www.ktiv.com/story/16387641/update-aurelia-ia-man-reunites-with-service-dog
Eastern Iowa News Now (December 23): http://easterniowanewsnow.com/2011/12/23/disabled-veteran-officer-suing-town-for-banning-service-dog/
NBC Sioux City (December 22): http://www.ktiv.com/story/16382413/pit-bull-ban-keeps-disabled-man-from-service-dog
CBS Chicago (December 22): http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2011/12/22/iowa-town-wont-let-retired-chicago-cop-keep-service-dog/
Sioux City Journal (December 22): http://siouxcityjournal.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/should-disabled-aurelia-iowa-man-get-to-keep-his-dog/article_a88d3f40-d393-5796-9a8c-543b989634cb.html
Chicago Sun Times (December 21): http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/9566024-418/disabled-chicago-cop-denied-pit-bull-service-dog-launches-landmark-ada-lawsuit.html