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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Man denied 'service dog' seeks legal action

Friday, December 23, 2011

James Sak with Snickers.Photo submitted
AURELIA - According to information submitted to the Chronicle Times, James Sak, 65, a disabled Vietnam Veteran and retired Chicago police officer, was forced to relinquish his service dog after the Aurelia City 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 may possibly violate a 2010 regulation from the United States Department of Justice 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, Heddy Engdahl, an 87-year-old long time 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 and unable to use the right side of his body, and he has been confined to a wheelchair. For two years, Saks 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 City Council dated December 2, 2011.

Days after moving into their new home, Sak and Leifer were summoned to a City 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 reportedly protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and should not be subject to the breed ban, according to a 2010 regulation issued by the Department of Justice.

"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 City Council told Sak that he must remove his dog from city limits by the end of the day. Snickers is currently being boarded at a 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."

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

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It looks like the city council needs to be recalled. They need to realize that not all pit bulls are violent. training is the key to a good dog & it seems the council needs to be trained to be smarter than the dog!

Jim Fassler, MSGT, USAF (ret)

-- Posted by cheechakonews on Sat, Dec 24, 2011, at 8:45 AM

I respect this man's service as a Viet Nam vet, and as a policeman. But it doesn't seem to me that he is a "disabled vet" ... the cause of his disability was not connected to his military service. As a police officer, who was sworn to uphold the law, I cannot understand why he would now feel that he is above the law. It seems to me that the Aurelia City Council is simply doing the job they were elected to do.

-- Posted by jstutz on Sat, Dec 24, 2011, at 11:23 AM

RE: As a police officer, who was sworn to uphold the law, I cannot understand why he would now feel that he is above the law.

It is the town that feels it is above the law. Federal Law supersedes any town/county/state law.

The same thing was pulled in Denver, CO:

http://www.9news.com/news/sto​ry.a... ;catid=222

Google: co pit bull service dog

Petition demanding the man's service dog be given back to him:


-- Posted by EyesWideOpenToo on Sat, Dec 24, 2011, at 1:55 PM

you have got to be kidding me!! You are denying this man his service dog? Aurelia has always been a "clickish" town, but this is going overboard. Why don't some of you start welcoming new comers into your community instead of trying to get them to leave? Once, just once, get your noses out of the air.

-- Posted by madtownimplant on Sun, Dec 25, 2011, at 7:40 AM

For those that do not feel he is a disabled veteran, think again. There are many levels of disability afforded our veterans. In many, if not most instances, a disability may be awarded due to the expected development of its severity as they age. This is my case as I am able to get around fine now, however will require hip replacements in the near future due to injuries sustained during service. Regardless of Mr. Saks's status as a veteran or not. For the town to disallow any certified service dog is wrong. Will they disallow walkers next? Obviously those using walkers impede pedestrian traffic. How about bicycles and skateboards? Seems wheelchairs have wheels too, therefore maybe they should be banned from sidewalks! Mr. Saks is not only trying to live his life, he is trying to assist his mother. Let him live with autonomy, something made much easier with the assistance of his service dog.

-- Posted by dhudsonsr on Mon, Dec 26, 2011, at 2:38 PM

I can't believe how closed minded the people of Aurelia are being!! I would be ashamed to say I lived there if I was so unlucky to have to. What a disgrace to treat an innocent person this way, who needs his service dog, no matter who he is. Yet this man served our country in war and as a police officer and you are treating him like he is harboring a criminal. Yes, pit bulls do have a history of violence, but if raised properly and trained right, they are less likely to attack than a dog who is trained in a violent situation. This dog has shown no signs of aggression or violence. He is trained to help Mr. Sak and Mr. Sak needs him. Mr. Sak, I say get your dog back and move out of that unwelcoming town and move to a better town like Cherokee.

-- Posted by slangworthy on Tue, Dec 27, 2011, at 7:08 PM

Judge Rules IN FAVOR of Jim and Snickers!

Voices were heard, the wonderful folks at Animal Farm Foundation and Jim Sak's attorney got it done! Thank you all for your support! Yay for Jim and Snickers!!!

Jim, SEND A MESSAGE. You won, now the work begins. Please go a few steps more for the entire disabled community. SEND A STRONG MESSAGE.

-- Posted by swheavenscent on Wed, Dec 28, 2011, at 1:49 PM

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