Aurelia not giving up on case against service dog
Snickers, the service dog from Aurelia who was ordered by the city council to be removed from the home of Jim Sak and his wife, Peggy Leifer, in December, but was returned to the family two weeks later after the Honorable Judge Mark W. Bennett heard the case in district court and granted the motion for preliminary injunction for Snickers, is back in the news.
The attorneys from Davis Brown Law Firm, who are representing the family pro bono, learned this week that the City of Aurelia refused to settle out of court and reach a permanent agreement on Snickers' legal ability to stay with Jim in Aurelia. Therefore, the case will be going to trial; the trial date has been set for July 8, 2013.
In the meantime, the attorneys have entered into the discovery period, where they will be gathering expert testimony and factual evidence supporting the Sak's case. This will include information on service dogs, the ADA guidelines, dog behavior, Jim's health, and so forth.
"Animal Farm Foundation is pleased to support them in these efforts to present the most current, fact-based and peer-reviewed scientific research and information," said Kim Wolf, Community Engagement Specialist for Animal Farm Foundation.
Snickers has permission from the Federal judge (per the hearing in December 2011) to remain at home with Jim throughout this process.
Snickers is a mixed breed of black lab, boxer and pit bull. The Aurelia City Council has claimed that Sak cannot have the dog because of the pit bull genes and that it goes against the current city code of ordinances Chapter 58, "Pit Bull Dog" which states it is unlawful to keep or harbor, or in any way possess a Pit Bull Dog or any mixed breed of a Pit Bull within the City of Aurelia. The ordinance was adopted in March 2008.
Sak and his wife Peggy Leifer moved to Aurelia from the Chicago area in November so that Leifer, who grew up in Aurelia, could care for her elderly mother. They did not come to cause any problems, they said.
Snickers has been a part of their family for five years. When Sak suffered his stroke in 2008 and was recovering in the University of Illinois Hospital of Chicago, Snickers came to the hospital for visits with his master. It was apparent to Sak's physical therapist that Snickers possessed the disposition needed to be a service dog.
Due to the stroke, Sak, who is permanently paralyzed on his right side, has certain limitations. Snickers worked extensively with the physical therapist and Sak for two years, and with his help, Sak lives more independently, which was the intention when moving to Aurelia to give Leifer the opportunity to leave her husband throughout the day without concern for him, so she could care for her mother.
Sak explained that if he falls from the wheelchair he spends much of his time in, and falls on his back, it is impossible for him to get turned over.
Snickers is certified with the National Service Animal Registry. The registry states that service dogs are specifically trained to perform important life tasks for people who have difficulty performing or are unable to perform the task themselves.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it further states, businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas open to the public.
The couple commented in an earlier interview that under ADA they can take Snickers anywhere in public, as well as into businesses, yet the community is saying the dog is not allowed in their home.
Since he has been home, the Sak's have put up a secure eight-foot fence with security gates in their yard to give the community more peace of mind.
Earlier this year, Jim was diagnosed with throat cancer and has been undergoing treatment at Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City. He is expected to recover, and the survival rate for this type of cancer is 70% or higher.
"The worst part of my [cancer] treatment is not having my dog here," said Jim Sak.
Jim will be returning home to Aurelia upon completion of his treatment. "Jim has been so strong throughout all of this. We know his strength comes from knowing Snickers is waiting for him at home, waiting to do his job as his service animal and his support," said Wolf.
"We want everyone to realize that Aurelia's decision to use taxpayer dollars to put Jim through the agony of a trial, especially while he's battling cancer, does not reflect the sentiments of every resident of Aurelia. The outpouring of support and disbelief from Jim's neighbors has been huge. We don't want all the residents of Aurelia to be cast in a negative light just because of the illogical, unjust, and heartless decisions of a small minority," said Wolf.
Animal Farm Foundation, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation, has been rescuing and re-homing animals, as well as making grants to other humane organizations, since the mid-1980s. The organization is located in Dutchess County, NY.
They currently dedicate their resources to securing equal treatment and opportunity for "pit bull" dogs.