Snickers, a pit bull mix, will be ringing in the new year at home, thanks to U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett, who granted a temporary injunction on Wednesday, allowing Snickers to be immediately returned to his owner Jim Sak, a retired Chicago police officer.
Sak, a disabled Vietnam War veteran, was partially paralyzed after suffering a stroke in 2008, which was followed by brain surgery. Snickers is a certified therapy dog who aids him with a number of tasks from helping him stand and walk to getting help in an emergency. That was Snickers’ job until Sak and his wife Peggy Leifer moved to Aurelia, IA, last month to be near her elderly mother.
Days after moving, someone reported the Sak to city officials due to the breed ban the city has in place.
“I didn’t know there was a Pit Bull ban (here),” said Sak.
In defiance of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which guarantees people to the right to have service dogs regardless of their breed, a petition was circulated and the City Council voted 3-2 to have Snickers removed, even though he had done nothing wrong and had no history of aggression.
“The ADA (American for Disabilities Act) Guidelines are very clear on this issue,” said Rebecca Huss, a law professor at Valparaiso University and an expert on service dog-related issues. “The breed or mix is irrelevant when it comes to service dogs. The ADA isn’t about dogs; it’s about giving people with disabilities access and enhancing independence.”
Sak and his wife filed a lawsuit against the city citing the violation of the ADA with the help of the Animal Farm Foundation.
In granting the injunction, the ban wasn’t overturned, but Judge Bennet said lawyers hadn’t proved that the city would be harmed by Snickers’ presence, but that there was enough evidence to show that removing him would cause harm to both Sak and Snickers.
Sak had fallen multiple times since Snickers was removed and needed increased supervision, and despite being reportedly well cared for at a boarding facility, Snickers didn’t take the stress of being away from home very well and broke out in hives and began losing hair.
The city may appeal the motion, but if it does, Sak will continue to fight it and the final decision will be handed down by a federal court.
Unfortunately, breed bans affecting innocent dogs like Snickers have been passed in a number of cities across the country and continue to be fought by pit bull advocates, animal lovers and animal protection groups. Even the Justice Department’s opinion on breed specific legislation (BSL) is that “such laws sweep too broadly; and that it is inappropriate to outlaw an entire breed of dogs because a small number cause problems. Such problems are the result of owners not restraining their dogs properly or inadequately training them, rather than the result of a particular breedís disposition, and can be addressed by more narrowly-crafted legislation.”
Photo credit: sparktography via flickr