Snickers the Service Dog is Back Home After Running Afoul of Aurelia, Iowa’s Ordinance Banning Pit Bulls

Posted by Stephanie Ulmer, Guest Blogger on February 1, 2012

Jim Sak, a former Chicago police officer for over 30 years, recently relocated to Aurelia, Iowa, to help care for his wife’s 87-year-old mother. Shortly after arriving, the Saks learned that they had an unwelcome family member, Snickers, who is Jim’s service dog. Because Aurelia had a “breed specific” ordinance singling out pit bulls, the Saks were told Snickers could no longer live with them.

The Saks were summoned to a city council meeting on December 14th, where the council then voted 3 to 2 not to make an exception for the Saks to allow them to keep Snickers. This occurred even though the Saks argued that Snickers “was the sweetest, most good-natured dog you’d ever want to meet.” And that Jim heavily relies upon Snickers after “suffering a debilitating stroke that left him with no feeling on the right side of his body.” The council subsequently ordered the Saks to remove Snickers by the following day.

The Chigago Sun-Times quoted George Wittgraf, an attorney representing the Iowa town, as saying that Aurelia 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. In addition, City Clerk Barb Messerole said the ordinance was approved in March 2008, after a meter reader was bitten by a pit bull.

But the Saks were not going to take losing Snickers lying down. An animal foundation hired an attorney to help represent the Saks, and it paid to board Snickers at an out-of-town kennel while the Saks filed a legal challenge. In their lawsuit, the Saks have asserted that the Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees disabled persons the right to have service dogs, regardless of their breed. And just before the New Year, the Saks received some good news from a federal judge in Sioux City, who issued a temporary restraining order allowing Snickers to be returned to his family. The case remains pending.

Jim Saks was quoted as stating before the restraining order was issued, “I was a policeman for 32 years. I understand there’s black and white, but there’s also a grey area where you have to use your head. [The council members are] not using their heads.” Well stated, Jim. This is a prime example of the failings of breed-specific legislation. Just because, as City Clerk Barb Messerole said, “…several people c[a]me forward saying they were concerned about the pit bull because of the nature of the breed. They just feel it’s unsafe. They’re aggressive and could hurt somebody. If the service animal was anything but a pit bull, it would have been fine,” Jim Saks should have to lose his trusted and proven caregiver? It just doesn’t make sense. It should be clear that Jim’s obvious need for Snickers should trump any unfounded and hysteric fears about a particular breed. It is sad that it will take a court to say so. 


8 thoughts on “Snickers the Service Dog is Back Home After Running Afoul of Aurelia, Iowa’s Ordinance Banning Pit Bulls

  1. mary mangling says:

    Gee, I guess only pits will protect their domain. So then if the meter reader would have been bitten by a chihuahua that breed would have been banned??

  2. Nuria says:

    How easily people can take away the rights of others, when ignorance comes into play. The first thing these power hungry people should have done was look at the laws that stand over and above what their opinion’s are. It would have saved the tax-payers some money and Mr. Saks and Snickers some grief.

  3. Peggy Sue Leifer says:

    Thank you so much for keeping this issue alive. Jim, Snickers and I have had so much support from people we have never even met. Our hope is that this should never again happen to another disabled person and that BSL become a phrase that is no longer in the vocabulary of this country. It’s the owners not the dogs. And by the way, “pit bull” is not even a breed. Dogs are labeled because of the way that they look. Profiling in the truest sense of the word. Thanks again for all the support.

  4. Jill says:

    The ASPCA recently stated in the Tails magazine that 75% of dogs labeled pit bull, actually have no “pit bull” DNA what so ever. BSL is racism and Ohio recently realized that (waiting for the Governors signature)when their congress voted to stop BSL. Thank you ALDF for keeping us updated and helping to stop racism among dogs. Even though most states do not have accurate records, “pit bull” breeds do not have the highest bite rate, another reason to stop BSL and BDL.

  5. KATHY SARRAF says:

    JIM SAK, THANK U FOR CARING & PROTECTING UR FAMILY MEMBER & BEST FRIEND SNICKERS.
    WE ARE ALL WITH U & SUPPORT U.
    YOU WILL MAKE A DIFFERANCE IN THE LIVES OF OTHERS WHO ARE FACED WITH THE SAME CHALLENGES!
    THANK U FOR SERVING THE PUBLIC. U ARE HONNORED & RESPECTED ON MANY DIFFERENT LEVELS.
    THE UNIVERSE IS ON UR SIDE & SNICKERS IS LUCKY TO HAVE U & BELONGS WITH U FOREVER.

  6. Frances says:

    I would like to say one thing about the whole country and the fear of Pit bull’s. It is not the dog that is the bad one it is the way they are raised and the owner is the one who is the bad one. I know a beautiful pit bull who would give the pit bull breed name and bad name because people would start calling them sissy’s he is so sweet and lovable. Besides what gives a City the right to ban anything I don’t believe even a mayor should have that right to just make up new laws it should have to go through the white house everything else does and another thing this is a man who could have given his life at anytime just to save your butt rather it be in this town or another one he still served and protected as a officer and for that I want to say thank you Jim for all you done all those years and still made it home alive. So many of our law enforcement are getting killed today for nothing but dope. Why don’t they leave the pit bulls alone and go after the real bad people like drug dealers rapest and killers. Lord help our country that is falling apart right in front of our eyes. Again thank you Jim for serving our towns as a police officer.

  7. Isabel Vanover says:

    How long will the stupidity continue? They rule against the dog because of one incident? God gave us a brain and they should use it instead of jumping on a bandwagon. On the other hand, the brain is a muscle and if not used (exercised) it can shrivel up and die! I think most of these idiots are more than halfway there!

  8. Lorraine Jensen says:

    I am currently going through a hearing that was just done this morning on my sons female and male fawn brindle pitbulls. We live in southern california. My neighbor has a vendetta with my son so he decided he would mess with the dogs and torment them, Witnesses (neighbors) saw him and commented that the dogs were very loving and the barking doesn’t bother them. They called the police several times to harass me as my son is out of town on a work project. These pups are 17 months old and still growing and learning. As for this idiot he paces back and forth along side of his house yelling at the dogs to get them barking then call the police What is wrong with people that have to use animals to get back at someone.? I sure hope that this doesn’t get overlooked because of the breed. That would be a racism issue. Hoping the outcome is fair and these people get a life