A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Jan 6, 2012

When a Service Dog is a Pit Bull ...

UPDATE: In the case of Mikey, below, the United States attorney's office is suing the condo complex for not allowing an elderly disabled women to keep her service dog in violation of the Fair Housing Act, which requires reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities. Unfortunately this action is too late for the woman who died weeks after being forced to give up her service dog, but is sure to save other lives, both canine and human in its wake. It still saddens me that law suits are required to force that which is right, humane and just.

There is a collective fear of pit bull dogs fueled by media accounts of horrific dog bites and gangland tales of high intrigue dog fighting rings. Viewing the dog as the criminal and treating the pit bull as contraband is often articulated as the solution. In other words, some cities simply outlaw the possession of pit bull dogs within their borders. Notwithstanding the wisdom of focusing on the dog rather than on the dog fighter or lax owner, the zeal to ban the breed has led to a conflict with the Federal American Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, what if the banned pit bull is a service dog?courtesy of Google Images

In Denver, a Vietnam veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder depended upon his pit bull dog, Precious, to cope with his disability. City officials seized his dog citing the city's pit bull ban. The city finally returned the dog to him but only if the dog was muzzled and complied with other conditions. There is a pending suit alleging violations of the ADA as it is asserted that the conditions preclude the dog from performing his duties properly.

Similarly in Iowa, a retired Chicago police officer, suffering from disabilities resulting from a stroke, who relied on his  part pit bull part labrador, service dog Snickers, was told by the city that he could not keep the dog due to the pit bull ban. The city asserted that the ADA was not violated as the officer could simply get a new dog that did not violate the ban! A federal judge has just ruled against the city and Snickers is now home. The judge stated "whatever the legal bark of the City’s Ordinance prohibiting pit bull dogs as a general matter of public health and safety, it is sufficiently likely that enforcement of that Ordinance against Snickers would take such an impermissible bite out of Title II of the ADA and the regulations and guidance promulgated to implement it that a preliminary injunction is warranted. (Sak v. City of Aurelia)

Unfortunately things did not turn out so well for a 74 year old woman who was forced to give away her service dog Mikey or face eviction and fines by the co-op board of her apartment complex for violating a "no pets" clause. She died a month after losing Mikey.

One wonders if an ADA challenge would have been successful there as well.

Article first published as What Happens When A Pit Bull is a Service Dog? on Technorati

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