Pit Bull Ban Separates Disabled Man, Service Dog

A disabled former Chicago cop is suing an Iowa town over the ban of his certified service dog

When a disabled former Chicago police officer moved to Iowa last month to live closer to his wife's sick family, he didn't expect to be forced to say goodbye to his best friend.

Two days before Christmas, that's what's on the agenda.

Earlier this month, James Sak, 65, had to relinquish his service dog, a pit bull mix named Snickers, because of a pit bull ban in Aurelia, Iowa. After a city council vote, Sak was asked on Dec. 14 to remove the dog from town, and Snickers was sent to a boarding facility outside Aurelia.

“I lost my helper,” said Sak in a note to media this week. “I’m not looking for special treatment, I just want to be safe, and I need my service dog for that.”

Sak suffered a stroke in 2008 that left him confined to a wheelchair and unable to use the right side of his body. He was paired at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago with Snickers, who helps him walk, balance and call from help in an emergency, he said.

Sak's wife, Peggy Leifer, said she can't leave him alone now. The couple is perusing legal action against the city of Aurelia under the Americans with Disabilities Act and with the help of the Animal Farm Foundation, which aims for equal treatment for "pit bull" dogs.

They filed a motion for injunction, and a hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Sioux City.

"The loss of service dog Snickers squarely impacts Mr. Sak's ability to undertake daily functions," the motion reads. "Mr. Sak has already fallen once since the loss of Snickers and required emergency assistance from law enforcement."

In the meantime, Snickers will be moved Friday from the boarding facility to a foster home.

Kim Wolf, a spokeswoman for the Animal Farm Foundation, said the transfer was arranged after Snickers began suffering from severe anxiety while being boarded. Sak told NBC affiliate KTIV the dog developed hives and his hair began falling out.

As a service dog, Wolf said, he's trained not to sit still. "I can't imagine what it must be like for this poor dog," she said.

Sak and Snickers will be reunited Friday before the dog's next move.

Aurelia officials were not immediately available for comment.

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