Breed Specific Legislation and the ADA
The government running the city of Aurelia in Iowa doesn’t like pit bulls. In December 2011, the city implemented a breed specific legislation, which prohibits new residents from owning pit bulls within city limits. That meant that new city residents who moved within city limits and own a pit bull or pit bull mix must either get rid of the dogs or move out of the city.
Jim Sak is a retired Chicago police officer and a Vietnam veteran. His service dog, “Snickers,” happens to be a pit bull mix. According to Jim, Snickers has been trained to do many things, including:
- Assisting Jim when he walks short distances within his home;
- Recognizing Jim’s tremors and lay down on the affected part of the body to stop the tremor;
- Preventing Jim from falling down while walking; and
- Assisting Jim to get back into his wheelchair.
Jim had moved to Aurelia with his wife and Snickers after the city enacted its breed specific legislation. Jim was unaware of the city’s ban on pit bull mix; and when he found out about the law, Jim was faced with two obvious choices: move again outside the city limits or have Snickers euthanized.
But there was a third option: sue the city.
On December 28, 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Bennett issued a memorandum opinion, which described the city’s breed-specific legislation as problematic in light of service dogs who happened to be pit bulls. Granting Jim a preliminary injunction, which permits Snickers to remain at Jim’s side until the merits of the case has been decided, Judge Bennett wrote:
This is one small, but vital step for [Jim] Sak, one giant leap for pit bull service dogs.
The merits of this case is scheduled to be heard in Federal Court sometime in July 2013.
Breed specific legislation has gained traction in many parts of the country. Usually, such legislation is enacted after a pit bull has attacked a child. Unfortunately, pit bulls have a terrible reputation — even those who oppose breed specific legislation agree with that. But tragic incidences involving pit bulls can usually be traced to irresponsible owners who trained their pit bulls to attack. And breed specific legislation not only advances the notion that pit bulls are inherently dangerous, it also hurts good, responsible owners who take care of their friendly and loving pit bulls.
Pit bulls are really wonderful dogs. If you are not convinced, spend some time reading BadRap.org to learn more about pit bulls and what the organization is doing to repair the pit bull’s tarnished reputation. Also, take some time to visit a shelter to meet some of these dogs. Or go to a local city park. I have met and seen many wonderful pit bulls and their owners in New York City and Philadelphia’s urban parks.
The Snickers case is an important case. It appears to be a case of first impression — I am not aware of any other case where a city’s ban on pit bull conflicted with the service animal provisions under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It is hopeful that this case will help show the public that breed specific legislation is not the answer. Judge Bennett’s opinion is not only a giant leap for pit bull service dogs, it will (hopefully) help improve the image of pit bulls.
[Update: On July 16, 2012, I received an email from a representative at The Animal Farm Foundation. The city of Aurelia voted to settle this case. As part of the settlement, Jim Sak is required to maintain an eight-foot fence in the backyard. Additionally, the city will reimburse Jim Sak for legal expenses that they incurred. The Animal Farm Foundation issued a press release. Congratulations to The Animal Farm Foundation, and good luck to Jim and Snickers!]