Legal Victory for Disabled Veteran Forced to Relinquish Service Dog

Life With Dogs is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.

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.

-end update
[dcs_head top=”0″ color=”#666666″] [/dcs_head] 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).

0 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
        • 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.

          Reply
          • did you happen to notice the date of the post you made the snotty comment about genius?

        • 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.

          Reply
          • 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! 😉

  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!

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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
      • 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.

        Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  6. 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

    Reply

Leave a Comment