Tag Archives: Americans with Disabilities Act

Aurelia, IA update: Council settles with service dog owner

Many thanks to Animal Farm Foundation for providing this update on the Aurelia, IA court case that pitted Aurelia’s breed ban against Jim Saks and his service dog Snickers. Aurelia probably finally realized it couldn’t win its case, because the ADA prohibits a municipality from imposing its breed ban/BSL on a service dog.

All alerts for Aurelia, IA: https://stopbsl.org/?s=aurelia%2C+ia


Contact: Stacey Coleman, Animal Farm Foundation, Inc.
Tel: (845) 233-8823, Email: scoleman@animalfarmfoundation.org

Aurelia City Council Reaches Settlement on “Pit Bull” Service Dog Case

Aurelia, Iowa (July 12, 2012) – After nearly one year of taxpayer-funded legal battles that escalated to the federal level, the City Council of Aurelia, Iowa, opted to settle with Aurelia resident James Sak, 65, a disabled Vietnam Veteran and retired Chicago police officer, and his wife Peggy Leifer on the matter of Sak’s service animal, a “pit bull” dog named Snickers. The council voted three to two in favor of the settlement.

Sak made national headlines in 2011 when the City of Aurelia said his service animal was not permitted in Sak’s home because of the city’s discriminatory dog laws banning “pit bull” dogs.

Under the terms of the settlement Sak and Leifer are permanently allowed to have Snickers in their home and in the community as Sak’s service animal. Leifer will also be allowed to keep Snickers at her Aurelia home in the event that Sak precedes the dog in passing. The city will reimburse the couple for the legal expenses they incurred throughout this process. The settlement also requires that Sak and Leifer maintain an eight-foot fence in their backyard, and a similar fence must be constructed if the couple moves to another location in Aurelia. In 2011 the couple volunteered to erect an eight-foot fence in their backyard, which they completed earlier this spring ahead of the settlement.

“It feels like I got my heart back,” said Sak, upon hearing that the settlement came through. “We’re just glad it’s finally over.”

Attorneys Sharon Malheiro and Michele Warnock of the Davis Brown Law Firm in Des Moines represented Sak and Leifer on this case. In December 2011, they appeared before United States District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett for an evidentiary hearing and successfully obtained a preliminary injunction allowing Snickers to remain at home while the case moved forward. A trial was set to begin in July 2013, but because the council opted to settle outside of court the trial is no longer needed and the legal battle has finally ended.

“We are happy to have resolved the matter to the mutual satisfaction of all the parties,” said Malheiro. “We hope that Snickers will serve as an example for other “pit bull” service dogs in the future.” Leifer also noted the significance of the case. “This has been a landmark for others, that they may be able to keep their service dogs, too.”

The Aurelia City Council’s initial efforts to prohibit Sak from having his service dog appeared to violate 2010 guidance from the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) on breed limitations for service dogs (“Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services”). In the opinion issued December 2011, the Honorable Judge Bennett stated, “Sak is sufficiently likely to prevail on a claim that a breed-specific ordinance that incidentally bars him from having a pit bull dog as a service animal violates Title II of the ADA and that substitution of a non-pit bull service animal is not a reasonable.”

Animal Farm Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to securing equal treatment and opportunity for “pit bull” dogs, provided support and information for the case. The foundation operates an Assistance Dog Training Program, where “pit bull” dogs from shelters and rescues are trained to do the same work traditionally reserved for pure bred, purpose bred dogs.

“This case was an extension of our mission and we were proud to ensure that Officer Sak’s rights were not violated simply because his service animal is a ‘pit bull’ dog,” said Stacey Coleman, Executive Director of Animal Farm Foundation. “It is unfortunate that Aurelia wasted taxpayer dollars to discriminate against this family in the first place, but we are pleased that the matter has finally been resolved.”

In January 2012 Sak was diagnosed with cancer and completed treatment at Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City. Last week Sak received results of a biopsy indicating that the treatments were successful. Sak and Leifer report that Snickers was “a tremendous source of strength, both physically and emotionally, for Jim throughout the process.”

For additional information, please visit www.animalfarmfoundation.org  or contact Coleman at (845) 233-8823 or scoleman@animalfarmfoundation.org.

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Aurelia, IA: City will go to court over “pit bull” service dog

Aurelia, IA, has decided to meet officer and service dog owner James Sak in court. The city has a ban on “pit bulls,” and Mr. Sak’s service dog, Snickers, looks like a “pit bull.” The city has refused to allow Mr. Sak’s service dog a permanent exemption to their breed ban.

We’re somewhat appalled that Aurelia is pursuing this matter. The Americans with Disabilities Act has been strengthened by a Department of Justice ruling that municipal breed bans / BSL cannot and should not apply to service dogs. It seems like a pretty clear-cut situation, and we’re not sure what Aurelia hopes to accomplish by pouring taxpayer money into a court battle with a disabled, cancer-suffering, retired police officer and his federally-protected, unoffending service dog.

All alerts for Aurelia: https://stopbsl.org/?s=aurelia

Animal Farm Foundation is assisting Officer Sak. Below is their press release. Many thanks to Kim for keeping us updated on this issue.

This week the attorneys from Davis Brown Law Firm, who are representing the Saks pro bono, learned that the Town of Aurelia refused to settle out of court and reach a permanent agreement on Snicker’s 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 (note: that says 2013, not 2012).

In the meantime, the attorneys have entered into the discovery period where they will be gathering expert testimony and factual evidence supporting the Saks’ 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.

Earlier this year, Jim was diagnosed with throat cancer. He 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 of 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.

Aurelia, IA loses court case, “pit bull” service dog returned

Many thanks to Kim for keeping us updated on this case!

Animal Farm Foundation is pleased to announce that the Honorable Judge Mark W. Bennett (http://www.iand.uscourts.gov/e-web/home.nsf/0/17a5762715fa4c52862573c90079072c?OpenDocument ) granted the motion for preliminary injunction for Snickers, a service dog, to be returned immediately to James Sak. Snickers will be returned to Officer Sak’s home in Aurelia later this afternoon.

Judge Bennett’s ruling carves an exception to the City of Aurelia’s ordinance banning “pit bull” dogs from city limits. Sak is a disabled Vietnam Veteran and retired Chicago Police Officer who depends on Snickers for his safety, mobility, and independence.

The hearing took more than two hours. Numerous people came out to support Officer Sak and Snickers, including a number of perfect strangers who drove hours to be there.

“Animal Farm Foundation is thrilled that Officer Sak will be reunited with his service dog, Snickers, and his safety will no longer be compromised. This case is a sad example of what happens when cities discriminate against dogs based on breed or appearance. Breed discriminatory legislation does nothing to enhance public safety, but it’s extremely expensive to enforce, it tears apart families, and it divides communities. Hopefully other cities will learn from this and choose alternative approaches to building safe and compassionate communities.” – Kim Wolf, Community Engagement Specialist, Animal Farm Foundation

“Today I got my peace of mind back. I hope that nobody else has to go through what we went through.” – James Sak

Animal Farm Foundation will continue to support Officer Sak with this case if the City if Aurelia appeals the decision in the United States Court of Appeals.

For additional info/interviews, please contact Kim Wolf at (845) 418-0778 or kwolf@animalfarmfoundation.org.

Recent guidance published by the federal Department of Justice regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act states that service dogs are essentially exempt from municipal breed-specific legislation. The judge in this case upheld the DoJ guidance in favor of Sak.

Note that the ADA exemption does not apply to pet dogs, therapy dogs, or any other dogs that are not employed as service dogs as defined by the ADA. However, the DoJ’s reasoning for the exemption is significant because the same reasons (dogs should be assessed as individuals, breed stereotypes are not reality, a dog’s actual behavior is more relevant than appearance, etc.) could also apply to pet dogs. Don’t count on the DoJ or any other federal entity to jump in and help pet dog owners fight BSL, though. Federal government doesn’t have the authority to create dog control laws. For pet dogs, your state and local laws will continue to apply.

Here are a few of the news articles about the outcome:





Aurelia, IA: Breed ban violates ADA, takes veteran’s service dog

In July 2010, the Department of Justice revised the Americans with Disabilities Act, issuing an opinion that service dogs should be excluded from local breed bans and breed restrictions.

However, some municipalities (notably, Denver) have refused to modify their breed ban to allow service dogs of banned breeds. A court case in Aurelia could set a significant precedent for other “holdout” cities like Denver.

Edit 12/22/11: An injunction against Aurelia has been filed by Mr. Sak, and the legal documents can be read here. Highly recommended reading: http://www.animalfarmfoundation.org/files/snickers_materials.pdf
“Animal Farm Foundation hopes that Officer Sak can be reunited with his service dog in time for Christmas,” said Kim Wolf, Community Engagement Specialist for Animal Farm Foundation. Thanks to Kim for keeping us in the loop!

Edit 12/26/11: The case will have a public hearing on December 28. Visit the Facebook event page for more details: http://www.facebook.com/events/267633296625390/


December 21, 2011
Contact: Kim Wolf, Animal Farm Foundation, Inc.
Tel: (845) 418-0778, Email: kwolf@animalfarmfoundation.org

Town Council in Iowa Forces Disabled Veteran & Retired Police Officer to Relinquish Service Dog

Legal action being pursued against City of Aurelia

Aurelia, Iowa – James Sak, 65, a disabled Vietnam Veteran and retired Chicago police officer, was forced to relinquish his service dog after the Aurelia Town Council voted December 14 to prohibit the dog, identified as a “pit bull,” from residing within Aurelia city limits. Although the City of Aurelia has breed-discriminatory laws prohibiting residents from owning “pit bulls,” the Council’s decision appears to violate 2010 guidance from the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) on breed limitations for service dogs (“Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services”).

Sak and his wife, Peggy Leifer, moved to Aurelia in November to live near Leifer’s ailing mother, an 87-year-old longtime resident of Aurelia. Sak was accompanied by his service dog, Snickers, who is certified with the National Service Animal Registry. In 2008 Sak suffered a debilitating stroke that left him permanently disabled, unable to use the right side of his body, and confined to a wheelchair. For two years Sak worked with Aileen Eviota, a physical therapist with the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago, to improve his functional capabilities and live more independently through the use of a service dog. “Snickers has been individually trained to assist James with tasks which mitigate his disability, including walking, balance, and retrieving items around the house,” said Eviota in a letter to the Aurelia Town Council dated December 2, 2011.

Days after moving into their new home, Sak and Leifer were summoned to a Town Council meeting after a small group of citizens circulated a petition calling for the dog to be removed from city limits. Although the dog has no history of aggression or nuisance complaints, the petition urged the Council to “retain as written and without exception the existing City of Aurelia Ordinance, Chapter 58,” which prohibits ownership of “pit bull” dogs.

However, because Snickers works as a service animal for a disabled person, the dog is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and should not be subject to the breed ban, according to 2010 guidance issued by the DOJ.

“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,” the DOJ stated in the regulation. “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.”

On December 14 the Aurelia Town Council told Sak that he must remove his dog from city limits by the end of the day. Snickers is currently being boarded at facility outside of Aurelia.

“I lost my helper,” said Sak, who served more than 30 years in the Chicago Police Department and enlisted in the Army during the Vietnam War. “I’m not looking for special treatment, I just want to be safe, and I need my service dog for that.”

“Without the service dog here to assist, I can’t leave Jim unattended,” said Leifer. “But the whole reason we moved to Aurelia was to care for my 87-year-old mother who is ill. I drive across town to care for her three times a day. Jim has already fallen once and we had to call 911. I live in fear that he will have another stroke, or worse. We need his service dog back.”

Sak is a member of the Fraternal Order of Police – Chicago Lodge 7 (retired from the 12th District of the Chicago Police Department) and the American Legion – Post 390 of Aurelia (Vietnam Veteran, Army Signal Corps).

Sak is pursuing legal action against the City of Aurelia so he can be reunited with his service dog.

In accordance with our mission, Animal Farm Foundation is committed to assisting Sak with securing funding for this case. For more information, please contact Kim Wolf at (845) 418-0778 or kwolf@animalfarmfoundation.org.

An excellent article in the Chicago Sun-Times can be read here: http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/9566024-418/retired-chicago-cops-service-dog-not-welcome-in-iowa-town.html
More articles:

Aurora, CO: Council considers partial breed ban repeal

Aurora, CO city council has agreed to consider a repeal the breed ban on seven breeds (American Bulldogs, Cane Corsos, Dogo Argentinos, Fila Brasileiros, Presa Mallorquins, Presa Canarios, Tosa Inus, and any mixed breed dog resembling one of these), but the ban on “pit bulls” (APBT, AST, SBT, and mixes resembling one of these) will remain in place. There will be an exemption process for service dogs.

The council only had ears and eyes for “pit bull” bite numbers, and ignored the data that demonstrated that non-restricted breeds’ bites, including severe bites, have not decreased since the ban went into place. Evidently, Aurora city council doesn’t care about its residents unless they are bitten by a “pit bull”-looking dog.

All alerts for Aurora: http://stopbsl.com/?s=aurora%2C+co

City Council compromise: Breed ban would stay, list would shrink

Posted: Monday, April 11, 2011 8:34 pm | Updated: 10:52 pm, Mon Apr 11, 2011.
SARA CASTELLANOS, The Aurora Sentinel

AURORA | A proposal would allow pit bulls in Aurora only as service dogs while whittling the list of restricted breeds from 10 to three.

That was the compromise that Aurora City Council members came to at their Monday study session meeting. The issue will come before them for a formal vote on April 25.[…]

Full article retrieved 4/12/11 from http://www.aurorasentinel.com/email_push/news/article_80940f74-64ad-11e0-ba39-001cc4c002e0.html


Aurora, CO: Council to consider breed ban revisions, March 17

On March 17, Aurora city council will consider revisions to their breed ban, which currently bans American Bulldogs, American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Cane Corsos, Dogo Argentinos, Fila Brasileiros, Presa Mallorquins, Presa Canarios, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Tosa Inus, and any mixed breed dog resembling one of these. Per city documents, the ban was passed due to public perception and fear of these breeds—not because of any public safety data indicating these breeds were problematic in Aurora.

City council and other officials have touted the “success” of the breed ban by observing that bites from restricted breeds have decreased. It should be noted that bites by non-restricted breeds have NOT decreased. In fact, non-restricted dog bites are above pre-ban levels.

Courtesy of the city, from January/February 2011 council packet:
2003   Total bites: 213     Restricted breed: 28       Non-restricted breed: 185
2004   Total bites: 211     Restricted breed: 33       Non-restricted breed: 178
2005   Total bites: 137     Restricted breed: 27       Non-restricted breed: 110
Breed ban enacted in 2006, dog-on-animal bites now included in data(?)
2006   Total bites: 137     Restricted breed: 8       Non-restricted breed: 129
2007   Total bites: 172     Restricted breed: 15     Non-restricted breed: 157
2008   Total bites: 224    Restricted breed: 8        Non-restricted breed: 216
2009   Total bites: 229    Restricted breed: 9        Non-restricted breed: 220
2010   Total bites: 194    Restricted breed: 6        Non-restricted breed: 188

In 2008 and again in late 2010, council received bite data as well. It should be noted that the numbers provided in 2008 and 2010 do not match the numbers provided in 2011 and in fact paint a less-sunny picture. For instance, the 2008 report provided the following data for 2006 and 2007 (dog-on-animal bites not included, for comparison purposes).

2006   Total bites: 182     Restricted breed: 11     Non-restricted breed: 171
2007   Total bites: 180     Restricted breed: 13    Non-restricted breed: 167

It is not clear why the numbers differ. In 2008, the city acknowledged past record-keeping inaccuracies, but claimed to have corrected both the data and the data collection process at the time of the 2008 report. It stands to reason that if the data was accurate as claimed in 2008, there should be no difference between 2008 and 2011 data. Why, then, do over 40 bites disappear from the 2006 data when reported in 2011?

The city has also continually struggled with a mingling of dog-on-human and dog-on-animal bites and has apparently accounted for these different types of bites inconsistently over the years. The city claims that 2006 through 2010 data includes both dog-on-human and dog-on-animal bites, whereas pre-2006 data was dog-on-human bites only; therefore, the numbers from 2006 through 2010 appear deceptively high when compared to pre-ban numbers. However, Aurora does not provide exact data for dog-on-animal bites, leaving us to make an educated guess. The 2008 bite report does call out dog-on-animal bites for 2006 and 2007; it was 30 and 18 bites, or 14% and 9% of total bites, respectively. Even if we subtract the higher percentage (14%) of dog-on-animal bites from each year starting in 2006, doing so does not reveal a trend of decreasing total dog-on-human bites; post-ban dog bites remain (mostly) higher than pre-ban dog bites.

Additionally, while the city currently puts forth the idea that restricted breeds “tend to” inflict more-severe bites than non-restricted breeds, the city has not provided data to prove this assertion—and the city’s 2008 report actually disproved this mantra. The 2008 report broke bites down by severity for 2006 and 2007. Over 90% of severe (AND over 90% of moderate) bites were inflicted by non-restricted breeds in 2006 and 2007. The breed ban did not appear to reduce severe dog bites—in fact, severe bites increased from 2006 to 2007, and non-restricted breeds were the ones implicated (restricted breed severe bites remained steady at one per year). No more recent data regarding bite severity has been made available, making it difficult to challenge the city’s current claim.

You can view the 2008 data here: https://stopbsl.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/june-27-aurora-city-council-meeting-dog-bite-stats.doc

It is not clear how the city can declare the ordinance a public safety “success” when they don’t have any numbers to prove it. I would also think last year’s 188 victims of non-restricted breeds’ bites would have something to say about the purported success (namely, “What about us?”).

Aurora city officials have nevertheless staunchly recommended that the ban remain in place. The proposal to “loosen the ban” or eliminate it altogether has been met with much skepticism from city officials and councilmembers.

Please provide intelligent, polite public input to encourage Aurora city council to do away with their breed-specific law, for the sake of public safety.

Aurora Mayor and City Council, 15151 E. Alameda Parkway, Fifth Floor, Aurora, CO 80012

Aurora will reconsider ban on pit bulls

By Carlos Illescas, The Denver Post
Posted: 03/14/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT

AURORA — The city is considering loosening its ban on pit bulls, just as a new federal ruling kicks in Tuesday stating that any breed of dog can be used as a service dog.[…]

On Thursday, an Aurora committee will discuss several options to the current ban. Those include doing away with the ban and keeping the ban but allowing pit bulls as service dogs.[…]

After Thursday’s meeting, the Neighborhood Services Policy Committee will forward a handful of proposed ordinances to the City Council for consideration.[…]

Full article retrieved 3/14/11 from http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_17608120

Aurora, CO to consider service dog exception to breed ban

Aurora City Council set to change course on service dog rule

Sunday, February 6, 2011 8:09 pm
SARA CASTELLANOS, The Aurora Sentinel

[…]The proposal to allow restricted breeds, including pit bulls, as service dogs within the city but still uphold the city-wide ban on those breeds will be formally voted on at a meeting later this month.[…]

Council members also decided at the meeting that they want to re-evaluate whether there should be a breed-specific ban in the city or whether they should pare down the list of restricted breeds.

“It would be my preference that we have a dangerous animal ordinance,” said Councilwoman Renie Peterson.[…]

Full article retrieved 2/7/11 from http://www.aurorasentinel.com/email_push/news/article_e844e0b2-3267-11e0-8ef6-001cc4c002e0.html

All alerts for Aurora: http://stopbsl.com/?s=%22aurora%2C+co%22