Iowa Town Won’t Let Retired Chicago Cop Keep Service Dog

AURELIA, Iowa (CBS) — A battle is likely to end up in court between a small Iowa town and a retired Chicago Police officer, over his service dog.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports, Jim Sak, 65, suffered a debilitating stroke in 2008 that left him in a wheelchair. His wife, Peggy, says his service dog, Snickers, has been a godsend.

“Jim depends on that dog for everything,” Peggy Sak said.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports

But after the couple moved to her home town of Aurelia, Iowa, last year, the Town Council ordered them to get rid of Snickers, who is part pit bull. Aurelia has a ban on the breed.

The Town Council refused to make an exception for the Saks, and since then, they have had to keep Snickers in a kennel outside of town.

“We’re lost without him around,” Peggy Sak said. “Jim is a lot more stoic than I am; it has to do with his training, I think, as a police officer. But we’re just flummoxed by the whole thing.”

The Animal Farm Foundation has hired an attorney who plans to fight the town. Federal law guarantees people with disabilities the right to service dogs, regardless of breed.

Aurelia outlawed pit bulls in 2008, after one bit a meter reader. But that does not mean the town can steamroll over rights guaranteed by federal law, the Animal Farm Foundation.

“The Department does not believe that it is either appropriate or consistent with the (Americans with Disabilities Act) 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,” Animal Farm quoted the U.S. Department of Justice. “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.”

The Animal Farm Foundation is paying to board Snickers at the kennel.

The ordeal has been a blow to Jim and Peggy Sak, who got married at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center in 2009.

“It’s just been horrible – trying to keep Jim’s spirits up, which is hard to do while I’m crying,” Peggy Sak said.



    • Kathy Arp

      Since it was trained as a service dog. It’s not just German Shepherds that are being trained as service dogs any more. This man served his country and was honorably discharged, he is a retired police officer of quite a few years in Chicago and only moved to Aurelia to help take care of his elderly mother. He has been disabled since 2008 from a stroke and the dog aids in many things for him. Why don’t you educate yourself before making such a biased and uneducated comment

    • Roberta Waker

      You should do some research before you comment on something you know nothing about. Pit Bulls go through the same training as any other service dog and they HAVE been used as service dogs very successfully. Unless they have been raised for fighting; most of them can be retrained and rehabilitated just like any other animal. You obviously have a computer; you can use it for research as well as comments, you know.

    • Anna

      You are so ignorant. I’d really like to put you to sleep. The world would be a better place.

      • Roberta Waker

        I agree, the guy that wanted the pit bull to be put to sleep is ignorant. Hope he doesn’t ever have a terminally ill relative that will rely on him to stay alive. Don’t see his post anymore so someone may have reported it to have it removed.

  • Roberta Waker

    What a terrible way to treat any retired person, let alone a police officer, that needs a service dog to survive. I hope the town opens its heart to this man and his dog; I’m sure they are both miserable without each other. Just because ONE pit bull bit someone is no reason to ban all of this breed. If someone stabs another person, will this town ban knives, too? This town council needs to be replaced with people that have compassion and common sense. The Animal Farm Foundation should win this one hands down and Jim and Snickers will have a very joyful reunion.

  • tom sharp

    As a Paws volunteer, I see hundreds of dogs each year. These people are nuts. The “Breed” doesn’t make a dog vicious, the owners do. Let the guy and the dog be together, that’s humane.

    • Roberta Waker

      Right on, Tom. I saw some kids walking last summer, followed by the family dog, when for NO reason, the family dog jumped up and bit one of the boys in the rear and knocked him down. I ran over to help and the dog ran away; called the police because the dog drew blood and was concerned he might attack another child. This dog was NOT a pit bull, nor was the golden retriever that ran out from a neighbor’s garage and attacked a man and wife walking their two small dogs on leashes. The man was knocked down and hit his head, one of his dogs had blood from where the dog bit him before the owner ran out and took the retriever back home. Two cases in less than two months neither of which involved a Pit Bull. People are just ignorant and have given Pit Bulls a bad rap, when it’s the owners that are responsible.

  • TB

    Hopefuly they will get a great Christmas present and Snickers will be allowed to stay.
    This town should be ashamed .!!!!!!!!
    I have a pit and she is the sweetest dog . There is no such thing as bad breeds only bad owners~!!!

  • Lori

    I wouldn’t leave my child alone in the backyard with ANY dog. It’s just plain irresponsible to do so. I don’t want my children bitten by ANY dog. Kids do unexpected things and dogs are animals with teeth. SUPERVISE your kids’ interactions with animals at all times. If you can’t supervise, keep them separated.

    • Roberta Waker

      Good reply, Lori.

  • tedison1

    I leave my children alone with my pitbulls all the time. Where do you get your “facts” that pitbulls are more dangerous than other dogs? The media? Because anyone with half a brain would know that the media reports on stories that will get people’s attention. They don’t care about the chihuahua that bit a child (and caused damage). They care about what’s going to sell a paper.

    Also, anyone with half a brain knows that local laws do not trump federal or state fair housing and disability laws. This person has more rights under law to have that dog than the town has to tell him to get rid of it.

    Put yourself in this person’s shoes for just one second and tell me you’d say the same thing if it was you.

    • Deano

      I have a shelter dog, a scruffy rescue mix who resembles Benji from the 80s movies. I was walking him in the park over the summer when a little girl, maybe 7 years old, grabbed her mother’s hand and cried with real fear “Mommy! A PIT BULL!”

      My dog looks as much like a pit bull as it looks like a toucan. This child didn’t know a pit bull from a pickle, but her fear was real and it was from being exposed to ignorance. Maybe she should move to Aurelia.

  • alexa

    I cannot believe the cruelty of some people. This man suffered a stroke and lost his independence. Now he lost his faithful companion through no fault of his own. Doesn’t this town have a heart? What if this was their husband, grandfather, or father? This kind of incident gives the town a real black eye – it’s the holidays – share your caring spirit that must be there somewhere though that is debatable based on your deplorable behavior. Let this man have his dog back.

  • Grad School Gal

    A friend of mine was severely mauled when we were children (he was walking to school, minding his own business) and the breed of dog that attacked him? A black labrador retriever. Thankfully, a neighbour’s dog came running out and defended my friend from the lab. The hero dog? A brindle pitbull. When the animal control officers came, it was the pitbull they began forcibly removing from the scene, even though my friend was screaming that it was the lab that had attacked him (and had a muzzle full of blood). Turns out, the lab had not only mauled his pubic area, but also nearly punctured a main artery in his leg. Had the pit not been there, my friend could’ve been injured to the point of bleeding to death. A story about the incident ran in the local paper and they made it sound like it was the pitbull that attacked my friend, and not the lab, which is disgusting. The media perpetuates the vilification of pitbulls while revering “family dogs” such as labs and goldens. Reality is: ANY dog has the capability of harming a person or child, if not socialized and trained properly. Not only is it an injustice for the media to perpetuate the hysteria around pitbulls as ‘evil, blood-thirsty killers’, but it’s also inappropriate to pretend that ‘family dogs’ are incapable of causing injury or death.

    PS…and to ‘slippery’ – when you degrade others by calling them ‘idiots’, the only person that truly looks like an idiot is the person who uses that word. Please learn to be more respectful of others – otherwise your message, regardless of how misguided it is, gets completely lost in translation.

  • James

    The biggest mistake these people made was to comply. They should have told the village where to stick their unjust law!!!!

  • slippery

    anna i am willing to bet that you are a democrat

  • Erin

    All of you who think that pits are so dangerous are so ignorant. Obviously the lower income people have created this stigma, but the fact is any dog can bite not one breed alone. Those damn Chihuahua’s bite all the time and no one complains about them. I would never leave a child alone with any animal regardless of size or breed. and to SLIPPERY: you should not speak if you do not have facts. They are from the working class, cattle and farming. If your vet says that this breed specifically is dangerous I would get another vet, they probably are not educated enough to know any better. Also, I beleive I live in a pretty well to do neighborhood not in the city but a bit north and many families have pits. Im not sure of your economical status but somehow that dosent seem to matter, when your ignorant money cant fix it.

    • Kathy Arp

      Erin, while part of your comment regarding the dogs is good, you made yourself sound very ignorant by labeling peoples “class” when you say that “Obviously the lower income people have created this stigma”. Before becoming disabled myself, I was by the government standards in the “Upper middle class” but now due to my disability am in the “upper lower class”. Just because I don’t make the same amount of money I once did, does not make me ignorant. I resent your remarks labeling peoples educations by their income. You don’t want to know where you just put yourself at with that slur. I am very offended by it. My friends who are “upper class” would also be very offended by your insensitive remark.

  • Civilized

    What do you expect when you move to hickville town?

  • Catherine

    I have a pit and she is a wonderful dog. She gets along with other people and other animals. I am a strong beliver that bad manners are taught/ learned. If you train your pet well it will behave. Train it to fight, it will fight regardless of the breed. A pitbull is a great service dog as they need and love to be around people. Shame on these places with BSL (breed specific legislation). One would think that our leaders and politicians would be more educated than that.

  • the rapture

    all those in support of the man should email the town council/town president – comments made in Chicago will not help – take a stand and send your emails to the town and the State of Iowa.

    Make it happen people

    • Deano

      My letter:
      To Whom it May Concern:

      I am writing to you from Salem, Massachusetts because I am absolutely disgusted by your community after reading an article in the Chicago Sun-Times.

      It seems as though your town is infected with the same type of hysterical nonsense that effected mine 300 years ago. This dog poses no more threat than the 19 ‘witches’ hanged on Gallows Hill. Why on Earth would your busybody ignorant citizens be frightened of a specially trained guide dog whose use is to maintain the balance of a senior, a retired police officer?

      Is this how your town wants to be known, as a place that discriminates against the very soldiers who defend our freedoms overseas as James Sak did in Vietnam? Or the police officers who serve and protect our communities, as James Sak did for so many years on the mean streets of Chicago?

      Do you understand that the Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law which prevents the discrimination of the disabled? I can only hope that an ADA lawyer gets involved as soon as possible and the citizens of your community learn to live in peace with a disabled veteran and his service dog.

      Your town has managed to downgrade my opinion of the human race.

    • Catherine

      I agree!

  • Border Agent69

    it’s really not the dog they don’t want a Chicago person living there especially a cop

  • Kelly, Fort Bragg, NC

    I agree with James I would have told them where to go. I don’t know about Iowa but in NC it is a felony for anyone (including law enforcement) to forceabiliy remove a service animal (of any breed) from it’s disabled handler. If they are to remove it, officer(s) must be witnessing the dog being an imminent threat to public safety otherwise a judge would have to issue a seizure warrant. Service dogs are valued at around 30 thousand dollars, had they taken my dog I would have sued not only the town for discrimination and harassment but for theft as well. They’ll win there case hands down but I’m sickened that it had to come to that. This should have never been a problem in the first place. I can’t believe Americans are still this ignorant about service animals. The law enforcement officials in this town should have spoken up or refused to seize the dog it is there job not only to enforce laws but to KNOW laws as well. I’m sending a certified letter to the town council detailing the ada as it pertains to service animals and hope others will join me. I’m also hoping to be able to send a note of support and encourage to the family lost without their service this Christmas.

    • Kathy Arp

      HOOAH!!!! and Thank you for your remark Kelly!!! I live in Iowa and I am trying to light a fire under anyone I can who might be able to deal with the village idiots in Aurelia! My son is stationed at Bragg but currently in the sandbox.

  • Roberta Waker

    When a law is unjust; it needs to be changed. Moving solves nothing. This town has violated this man’s rights and they will pay for that. The Federal government guarantees any disabled person the right to have a service dog, no matter what the breed. Even the federal government isn’t dumb enough to restrict the breed of service dog.

  • Roberta Waker

    How do you feel about Dobermans that were bred during the war to protect their owners? This breed is very high strung; should they be killed or banned as well? Are we neanderthals or intelligent people with research at our fingertips. Pit bulls are the ONLY breed that CAN be rehabilitated. Maybe you need to do some research???

  • Stephanie Kane

    I started a facebook page to get the Aurelia Town Council to grant the dog and exemption. Please “like” the page.!/pages/Aurelia-IA-Let-James-Sak-Keep-His-Service-Dog/267621543296200?sk=wall

    • Kathy Arp

      Stephanie, thank you for starting the page! It already has 250 likes and I’m sure as this article gets around, there will be more. I am going to copy/paste your info onto my facebook page for people to go to also. I find it humorous that the person who made the first comment about “since when are pit bulls considered service animals put the dog to sleep” is too big of a coward to even give their real name, signed “Cats rule and Dogs drool”. Very brave as well as educated indeed!

  • Erin

    Hear, hear, Mr. and Mrs. Sak! I may not have been a fan of pits in the past (the first I was ever exposed to were aggressive ones), but if Snickers is a trained and licensed service dog, the breed is no longer the focus. Your right to have that service dog IS. Haul their butts to court and get your baby back where he belongs!

  • Deano

    My vet HAS a pit bull! There goes your logic!

  • Deano

    Yes, the town has laws, but those laws are null and void when a federal law supersedes them. If the city of Aurelia wanted to ‘ban’ black people (and frankly it wouldn’t surprise me if they did) they can pass all the laws they want. But the federal government will let them know they can’t do it.

    The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal Civil Rights Law, and violating it carries a monetary fine. My hope is that James Sak gets his dog, gets a nice chunk of change from the people of Aurelia, and moves someplace where the community will respect a retired officer/veteran AND his service dog.

    • Kathy Arp

      Thank you for your comment. I agree 110%!!! It’s good to know not everyone here are idiots, in fact most everyone is thinking clearly. Bring Snickers HOME with his FAMILY!!!

  • Deano

    Just now I looked up the statistics of fatal dogs attacks on the internet, which can be easily found. The statistics are for the year 2010.

    Fatal dog attacks in the US in 2010: 33
    Homicides committed in the US in 2010: 14,748

    If you do the math, you will find that you are 99.777% more likely to be killed by a homicidal human than by a dangerous dog. If the objective of this law is to make citizens safer, I’m afraid the city of Aurelia is going to have to also ban our nation’s most deadly animal: the human.

    • Deano

      I decided that my data might be a little skewed, since the human population is much greater than the dog population. Therefore I tried something else.

      Current US Dog Population: 78,200,000
      Current US Human Population: 312,822,214

      By dividing these number with the fatalities above I can get a truer figure of the ratio of killer dogs to killer humans.

      1 in 21,211 humans will kill
      1 in 2,369,697 dogs will kill

      Big difference.

      How can Aurelia be safe with so many bloodthirsty humans living there?

  • Zibi Pit 20terriers/Misidentification% 20of% 20pit% 20bulls.html
    slippery that you’re smarter than I thought. Pit bull is often trained to rescue people. And it looks like the Pit Bull according to you?

  • Zibi Pit

    Slippery fallen from the moon?

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