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