Legal Victory for Disabled Veteran Forced to Relinquish Service Dog

Update (7/12/2012)

James Sak has won his legal battle with the city of Aurelia, and will be able to keep his service dog. The Iowa man reached a settlement with the city after the council voted 3-2 to accept the settlement, according to city clerk Barb Messerole.

The city must pay the couple $30,000 as part of the settlement after Sak filed a lawsuit alleging that his rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act had been violated.

Sak, 65, a disabled Vietnam Veteran and retired Chicago police officer, was forced to relinquish his service dog after the Aurelia, Iowa Town Council voted December 14 to prohibit the dog, identified as a “pit bull,” from residing within Aurelia city limits.

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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).

165 thoughts on “Legal Victory for Disabled Veteran Forced to Relinquish Service Dog

  1. Close minded people in the town of Aurelia. Its a service dog, not a typical household pet. I hope Sak gets his dog back and soon before something worse happens.

    1. If you’d read the article you’d know that he already did get his dog back along with a successful suit against the city.

        1. Snotty? Pointing out a complete lack of reading comprehension by someone that instead just wanted to quickly post an uninformed comment? If all you do is read the title you see “Legal Victory”. Pointing out ignorance is not snotty, it’s a service.

          1. did you happen to notice the date of the post you made the snotty comment about genius?

        2. Did we all miss something on that tape where it shows his dog kissing him- It says that he gets his dog back temporarily till the law suit is over- or did I miss something here – OMG I hope not.

          1. I followed this story from the beginning. He already got his dog back before. This victory is when he sued the town for taking the dog away and he won! Yee Haw. They have to PAY HIM because they were … uh… how should I put it…. &^%^*((*6
            ass wipes. HA HA HA the joke is on them! The US supreme court dont fool around when you screw with them! 😉

      1. Did you notice the post you are criticizing about reading comprehension is 3 and a half years old?

  2. It just never ceases to amaze me at how cold and heartless people can be. The dog has done nothing wrong and everything right. Makes me wonder about the evolving state of human consciousness. I hope the family has the resources to leave Aurelia. What a sorry place to live!

  3. This is a great example of why BSL is BS. This unjust and unreasonable discrimination not only adversely affecting dogs but people too.

    1. What I can NOT understand – how could their be a thumbs down on this comment?? Seriously, how can people be for BSL? Maybe they don’t understand discrimination. My dogs, 1 pit, 1 American Bulldog, 1 boxer, 1 GSD – they have all been discriminated against. My girl would have been put to sleep at the hands of animal control, but a loving soul at the shelter transferred her to the humane society so I could rescue her. STOP BSL – it is wrong!! All I can say is prejudice must be in these people’s DNA – they can not understand that it is unfair.

      1. Thumbs down because, the villagers have been having such a good time toting around those pitchforks and torches so long, they just wont hear anything about the monster not being so bad.

  4. The Man is a vet &a retired police officer, What the HEll are these people thinking thay have set them selves up for a huge law suit . Snickers is not threating to a soul. Just cause he is a Pit does not make him bad. those small little yappie dogs will bite you quicker than a large dog will.

    I hope he get the city for a HUGE amount, Lets hope no real harm comes to him before his service dog is returned, that will just make the case better.

    Well you just can not fix STUPID.

  5. Yes, BSL is WRONG. And taking this man’s service dog is doubly wrong. Just like in Belfast Ireland where a dog named Lennox that was certified, registered and trained as a service animal for a disabled child was wrongfully seized and held for euthanasia for almost two years now while they fight the city council. These laws are a disgrace

    1. Now Lennox is dead! STOP BSL!!! It is cruel and unfair! In Escambia County, Florida where I live, all bulldogs are euthanized if not claimed by their owner. They are not allowed to adopt out any bully breed. Unfair!!! All of these dogs, which would make wonderful pets are killed.

  6. I think the decision that the Town Council of Aurila are narrow-minded and
    cruel. They have judged Snickers unfairly, thereby causing undue mental stress upon Mr. Sak and his wife. I hope Mr. Sak wins his lawsuit against
    them and that the Court awards a judgment of whatever it will cost Mr. Sak and his wife to relocate to a place where they can keep Snickers with

  7. Hi Pat, as you may know I’m in animal control and its just terrible how people judge and discriminate against a breed… But it takes strong people and education to get over these hurdles. Yes there have been very bad attacks made by Pitbulls but many are not even Pitbulls and/or the result of non-responsible owner, mistaken identity etc…. Deb

  8. What has become of the dog?????? I fear they put him down before a resolution can be made. This nonsense has got to stop. Breed profiling is just wrong and just plain ignorant. Everyone should write or call the mayor of Aurelia.

  9. to Deb “in animal control” and others, FYI somewhere or other the insurance industry published a list from their accumulated claims files ranking breeds by numbers of attacks/bites. You know who was leading the list a while back (if I could find it I’d put it here, buried in my e-mails somwhere) was as I recall labs, then goldens, then beagles, then some of the little breeds (well, maybe little in stature but not little in their doggy minds! but at any rate little enough for minimal bite damage). Seems to me that pits were pretty close to the bottom of the list.

    Nonetheless – here we go again not just with breed discrimination but as bad or worse discrimination against those who need service dogs. I would bet my bottom dollar that there’s a whole lotta politics a-goin’ on in that town that have more to do with bad neighbors, corrupt councilmembers, those who don’t have any life other than what they can put on others to make others’ lives miserable, etc. In short – it’s probably revenge/bullying stuff.

    I saw up close and personal how Iowa allows animal abuse and neglect and not only failure by the authorities to appropriately punish the abuser but actually reward her. Case after case, not just the one I refer to. And the general attitude of Iowa seems pervasive enough that it even encompasses those who need an animal to have a life.

    Hope he has a really great lawyer. He’ll have to – given what I’ve seen of the Iowa court system!!!

  10. BSL is wrong and is used by fear mongers. People who have no idea what they are talking about. They need to ban the irresponsible owners/breeders, not the dogs.
    Pits are a wonderful breed of dog, just as Dobies, Rotties, Boxers, GSD’s, etc. This town had better come to it’s senses before it regrets the decision to remove this mans service dog.

    What idiots with lack of knowledge.

  11. really, people need to wake up! you cant put all dogs into one category according to their breed! obviously this dog met the criteria to be a service dog. snickers was a service dog, not a threat to society. they should be ashamed of themselves to let fear overrule common sense. an aggressive ,vicious, dog would not be given the certification of service dog. when will people realize that its how you raise and nurture your pets that counts.

  12. Everyone who has posted a response to this story should contact Mr. Sak and send him $$ for his legal defense. Better yet, everyone who has commented, if you know a GOOD civil attorney, get them to defend this man. And then start a “chip in” to pay for legal defense. This should be a slam dunk for any attorney who handles American Disabilities Act violations. Instead of saying what how wrong this is, which is obvious, lets all jump in to action to fight for and with this man. Time to act as a population who is tired of stupid, self serving politicians. Let put our money where our mouth is!

    1. ADA has their own attorney’s for this purpose so that he does not need to get an attorney. If he wants damages then he just takes the ADA findings and takes them to court. Of course if he wants to sue the counsel and the individuals, which he can, then an attorney is needed.

  13. Okay. I’ve been an AKC/ASCA judge for 20+ years. I’ve taught obedience for 30+ years. Although we don’t have any, my wife and I showed Rottweilers for about 25+. We haven’t had a Rott for over 10 years. We currently have a Border Collie and an Aussie. ALL of our dogs have been involved in tracking obedience and other things. Some have been used as demo dogs for obedience. Some have been on television.

    This entire incident shows the stupidity of elected officials bending to the larger stupidity of people who don’t know what they are talking about.

    In this particular case you have a dog that’s a service dog. NO service dog organization in this country would put a dangerous dog in a potentially dangerous situation. NONE. Yet a bunch of people look at this dog and say that the man can’t have the dog.

    AFTER the American for Disability folks get done with this town, the guy himself has a terrific lawsuit against these idiots.

    As Mrs. Rose Moore mentions, FEDERAL laws for the ADA supersede everything else.

    God bless him.

  14. Dogjudge – one of the council members was interviewed by the media and informed the reporter (who printed it otherwhere) that “federal law doesn’t apply in “their” town.”

    I understand that Animal Farm Foundation has stepped up to provide legal counsel to Mr. Sak. It would take a specialist in animal law to successfully fight this on a short term basis. News updates are pending, they already filed suit and requested an injunction against the town and its bullying redneck a-ho council members to try to get his dog home before Christmas. On a sadder note, however – because he did not have his service dog at his side he has had another fall possibly caused by another small stroke, and 911 was called to the home. This probably would not have happened had he had his service dog with him.

    What scares me is that someone who clearly has a vendetta against dogs in general, pit crosses in particular, cops in general or Viet vets in particular – someone might be running this campaign of harassment with truly evil intent. I hope that the kennel where they took the dog has good security. Sociopathic small-town redneck bullying types such as are apparently the makeup of this town council might get so pissed at being publicly embarrassed that they escalate the war they started, with potentially very tragic results. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Big fish in small towns don’t take kindly to being shown what the law is when they have decided they are gonna take someone down for whatever reason. If I were him I would make plans to move out of that town immediately. Like right now today.

    1. A clear case of myopic idiocy. I hope the town council of Aurelia can comprehend words in english of more than one syllable. Does this councilman or whatever he is have a napoleon complex or does he think his dictums come from on high or Mt Olympus.

  15. This town is violating the rights of this veteran and retired LEO by denying him the use of his service dog. The town is also creating a sense of medical negligence by refusing his dog to be with him and protect him. If this was a person who was denying/preventing care necessitated by a medical condition, they could be charged with neglect. Why shouldn’t the town be treated the same way? They are, in effect, neglecting his care and safety by denying him his dog.

  16. Make sure that this interview is sent to the ADA along with the complaint and then let’s see what that person has to say then!!!

  17. I think that he can sue not only the council, as a whole, but also the person that was interviewed, as an individual.
    For anonymous, above……you are so right. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. In this case I believe that the council should be recalled immediately.

  18. Suit has been filed in US District Court against the town (possibly also individually against the members of the town council, I’ll find out when court re-opens tomorrow as today’s a federal holiday and the court is closed).

    The good news is that a federal judge is likely going to take a really dim view of a small/small-minded town deciding it can ignore federal laws long in place to protect the disabled. The first hearing (other news reports identify the hearing as a request by Mr. Sak for an injunction against the town and allowing the dog to come home) is Wednesday December 28.

    The bad news is that if the town loses the first skirmish they may retaliate with an all-out war. What doesn’t need to happen is a Circuit Court or Supreme Court ruling on an appeal from the town – if it loses – which might overturn the ADA body of law either entirely or the part that directly addresses use of service animals. Given the attitude of certain RW courts these days, that isn’t far fetched.

  19. This is exactly what I said needs to be done. Been there, done that. Here is praying for man and service dog. God Bless.

  20. UPDATE: Hearing was this morning and there was a ruling by the court that Snickers could come home “temporarily during the duration of the lawsuit.” It’s far too early in the proceedings for there to be any kind of money award for damages against the town and in favor of Mr. Sak and there is a possibility that the town is going to be smarting with embarrassment for being caught defying the law by a federal court judge and might decide to appeal the ruling. However it looks like at least for a while Mr. Sak will have his service dog back. If I were him I would be making serious tracks to move out of that town and make this a non-issue especially since there are probably some who support that town’s council members who might decide to take matters into their own hands and do something terrible or terribly final to Mr. Sak or his dog. Just sayin’.

  21. We would all like to thank you for your support. Snickers came home on December 28th and I finally put up my Christmas decorations! We are so thankful for the “kindness of strangers” and Animal Farm Foundation for their support. We don’t know if it’s over yet, but in the mean time, Snickers and Jim are doing really well. Me, for the first time in my life I am trying to gain weight…really, for the first time. This has taken a terrible toll on all of us. If not for my mother who we moved here to take care of, we would be out of here. That is just not an option. Please keep your emails and messages clean, positive and kind. It’s not everyone, just the “chosen few” who decided to make our lives miserable. I was taught to forgive, but I have a little diffuculty doing so on Mom’s behaf. What this has done to her is truly awful. We’re going to be fine, I hope. A matter of time, right?

  22. Lennox is sending his positive vibes down upon all who’ve been fighting the good fight!! Yay Snickers!!

  23. Isn’t it crazy though that you’re seeing all of this around lately? like my god.. seriously.. When are they going to start going further up the leash and find out who’s responsible for all their bad reps…..

  24. Yay, happy for both of them…now, lets use this as a good sounding board for many more happy ending stories involving this breed of dog.

  25. Just because it’s a pitbull…very sad how small minded and stupid ppl can be!The owner is responsible for a viscious dog …the dog is taught by the human! pitbulls are the most gentle dogs. god bless you!

  26. CONGRATS James,I’m soooo happy for you! And for your service dog. This is very good news following the very sad and disturbing news of the murder of LENNOX,a little girl’s therapy dog,in Belfast,Ireland.

  27. Too bad they didn’t get stuck for even more, ignorant, stubborn idiots. They never should have started this or tried to justify it. Glad the court here did the right thing.

  28. Look up ” border collies attacks” there are lots of news about border collies that attack people. I guess they tried to hide other breeds that attack. A dog is a dog, is a dog.

  29. Congratulations.!! Shame on those idiots and the mindless of that town. Nothing better to do but interfere.. Did any one there ever put there life on the line for this country as Sak did.? Bet not.! No balls. Well done Sir. Happy ever after..

  30. So happy to finally hear some GOOD news!! Wishing you the best James and thank you for your service and sacrifice to our country!

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