Aurelia not giving up on case against service dog

Saturday, May 12, 2012

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.

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  • The town needs to quit wasting the tax payers money on this case. The dog has to under go strict training and if they so much as deem a temper problem, it must go.I get why they put this ordinance into place, but this is not the area to be fighting. Sounds like some city council need to educate themselves on this matter. Good luck Snickers!

    -- Posted by acerdj on Sat, May 12, 2012, at 7:01 AM
  • This story makes me sick. This town is directing so much time and money towards something that don't seem to understand. I think everyone there understands the breed ban, but this is an entirely different situation. so sad. I don't even know how to adequately put into words all my thoughts on this town and this issue. The dog is a service dog....obviously as acerdj has said it has undergone lots of training and observation. Also with being a service dog, this isn't going to be a dog that just gets tied up outside to bother anyone......Glad I dont live in that town, but so sad to see what this man and his dog are going through.

    -- Posted by AshlyMeyer on Sat, May 12, 2012, at 1:15 PM
  • I wrote a blog about this back in December...

    The City of Aurelia is making an incredibly stupid move here. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects service dogs of any breed. In fact, Aurora, CO and Denver, CO have attempted this. It prompted action from the Department of Justice. An excerpt from the final ruling...

    "Breed Limitations.A few commenters suggested that certain breeds of dogs should not be allowed to be used as service animals. Some suggested that the Department should defer to local laws restricting the breeds of dogs that individuals who reside in a community may own. Other commenters opposed breed restrictions, stating that the breed of a dog does not determine its propensity for aggression and that aggressive and non-aggressive dogs exist in all breeds.

    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 who use certain service animals based on where they live rather than on whether the use of a particular animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. 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 a history of the type of unprovoked aggression or attacks that would pose a direct threat, e.g., German Shepherds. Other jurisdictions prohibit animals over a certain weight, thereby restricting breeds without invoking an express breed ban. In addition, deference to breed restrictions contained in local laws would have the unacceptable consequence of restricting travel by an individual with a disability who uses a breed that is acceptable and poses no safety hazards in the individual~s home jurisdiction but is nonetheless banned by other jurisdictions. 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. This ability to exclude an animal whose behavior or history evidences a direct threat is sufficient to protect health and safety."

    The City of Aurelia is going to lose, and lose badly. The citizens should be demanding the resignations of their city council members and fire the city attorney, because this is going to cost the taxpayers a LOT of money. Maybe then they can hire a lawyer with common sense and council members that create laws based on facts instead of knee-jerk fear reactions.

    I saw a quote on Facebook that was rather funny, yet accurate...

    "Well, i think its nice that this town is finding a uniquely complicated way to give this disabled couple all of the towns money. It may have been less complicted to just give them a check for severl hundred thousand, but this way their lawyer can retire too!!"

    -- Posted by stafinois on Sat, May 12, 2012, at 5:18 PM
  • typical that you have overzealous and power tripping local bureaucrats that can't leave well enough alone and have to go on a ridiculous and wasteful tirade against something this absurd. They seriously need to give it a rest and quit pretending anybody values their opinion and they aren't just trying to lord over the personal lives and property of the people in their town like miniature dictators.

    -- Posted by jlees on Sun, May 13, 2012, at 5:58 PM
  • This is the problem with the "usual" Bleeding Heart logic (or better yet lack of). As soon as this poor guy (admittedly in a bad situation and his dog is probably fine - lot of Pit Bulls that are "fine" until that fateful day, then everyone is "shocked" they mauled their owner or the neighbor kid, but I digress) gets to keep his dog, another 100 idiots will come out of the woodwork saying if Jim gets to have a Pit Bull breed, why can't I? Happens EVERY SINGLE TIME.

    For darn sure there are WAY to many laws, and some factions of the public want to pick and choose which ones fit them and which ones don't. Your President and Federal Government won't even prosecute Illegal Immigrants, which last time I checked, there is a Federal Law against it. Just one example of many.

    -- Posted by Dick Butkus on Mon, May 14, 2012, at 8:53 PM
  • Aimee...glad you brought that up about your article. Well guys my dad is part of the Aurora, Co chapter and yes he is disabled. Well he can't see and hasn't seen since I have been a kid. So that being said, I have grown up around service dogs. Not in our house lol cuss my dad learned how to do it on his own and i was very proud of him for this. Any dog can and will flip out. Pit bulls more soo, buttttttt this is a mixed dog that is in question here. So we need to look at that and not that it has pit bull in it. This town I do have to say is dang lucky that the Iowa chapter is not so organized for this gentleman. Colorado would chew this town up. What I don't really understand is why are the ppl of the town not coming together for this man?????? Guess this must fall under the out of towner and we won't help him, cuss we don't know him. So I kinda blame the ppl there too.

    My bleeding heart goes to the situation and that this poor man didn't know that there is an ordinance against this dog. Most towns do have this ordance. Does this excuse him, well the judge was right on this one!!!! This town will loose and so will the ppl for not stopping the town from wasting tax dollar money! Sad so sad!

    -- Posted by acerdj on Tue, May 15, 2012, at 6:41 AM
  • Other towns in this country have fought breed bans and won. Dogs should be judged on a case-by-case basis not by breed because owners are a factor in dogs' behavior. This case would not be an issue except for this ban.

    -- Posted by communicate on Tue, May 15, 2012, at 8:00 AM
  • Are there "best practices" for raising these breeds that require additional time and attention over raising other dogs? Could there not be a way to earn a certificate of completion of these extra things to own the dog? I'm thinking of an obedience training class, a way to document hours spent training them to heel, stand down, etc. I mean, the fact that these wonders put in a fence I think speaks to their commitment to keeping the dog and the community safe.

    And no, it would not be 100%, but I would think it would give a level of comfort. I don't know why there is so much hysteria about dog behavior, truly. There are no guarantees in life. I could have an inspection of my home and certification everything is fine, then part of my gutter could fall off tomorrow and hit someone in the head. If we can't guarantee an inanimate object will do what it's meant to do, it's unrealistic to require a 100% guarantee about a living thing.

    -- Posted by AmyPeterson on Tue, May 15, 2012, at 8:27 AM
  • I just don't understand it. You have a city ordinance....banning a dog breed? Do they not have ANYTHING better to do? I was once bitten and clawed by a siamese cat when all I did was try to pet it....WE SHOULD HAVE A BREED BAN AGAINST THEM. Bottom line: The man is disabled. Not just lonely because he doesn't have his dog, not just "fighting the system"....but disabled. This dog....a certified trained dog, helps him through life and is also a constant companion. Yup, sounds like this dog is jusst waiting to lash out at the public. The city council should be ashamed of themselves. They are petty, short sighted, and unfeeling.

    -- Posted by lastsonofoa on Tue, May 15, 2012, at 9:01 AM
  • I can't believe that the city is going another round with this disabled man! I bet this couple are hopefully waiting for the day when they can move. good luck to this disabled man and may he keep his helpful dog AND MAY THE REST OF THE PEOPLE SHUT THE HELL UP!

    -- Posted by iowagirl on Tue, May 15, 2012, at 1:46 PM
  • As I mentioned in my blog before (with links included), Pit Bulls are no more likely to "snap" than any other breed. The number of dog bite related fatalities has stayed very static over the years. What changes are the breeds involved. At different times in history, German Shepherds, Saint Bernards, Great Danes, and Bloodhounds have all been over-represented in fatality numbers due to trends in what breeds were popular with the wrong people. Unfortunately, the Pit Bull is the current choice for gonads on a leash.

    My Pit Bull is 11-years-old. He's a certified therapy dog and has been since 2007. He was nationally ranked with the American Kennel Club in competitive obedience in 2005. He obtained a Herding Instinct Certificate in 2004 by showing natural inclination to move a herd sheep through an obstacle course. I think he's a pretty good dog. To those of you convinced that he may snap at any time... What has your dog accomplished?

    In the end, the dog's breed is irrelevant. The Department of Justice has ruled on this before, and the City of Aurelia is in direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    -- Posted by stafinois on Tue, May 15, 2012, at 5:38 PM
  • I do understand that some people still truly believe that pitbulls are horrible animals. However, Many other dogs have also topped the list as well as aggressive dogs and yet are no longer considered so as everyone seems to focus on the pit bulls. hmmmm...let me count the amount of times I've been bite by a pit bull (I've been around MANY, and never been biten) and lets count the amount of times i've been biten or chased by a Chihuahua, dachshund, or other small "cute, cuddly" little dog! The fact no matter the breed is that ANY dog could just snap! As well as people! This is all just craziness. This dog is a SERVICE dog AND an INSIDE dog! Do these people that are so "scared" of this mixed breed service dog plan to be spending alot of time in this mans house where the dog would have access to hurting them? SMH

    -- Posted by AshlyMeyer on Fri, May 18, 2012, at 9:06 PM
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