Retired cop forced to give up pit bull service dog – do you care about Breed Specific Legislation now?

Our dog Bailey would be illegal if our community adopted Breed Specific Legislation - which it thankfully has not.

Folks involved in animal rescue know all about Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), but many average dog owners don’t understand what it really means when communities adopt laws banning dogs of specific breed or physical characteristics.

Then a story like this one hits the front page: retired police officer James Sak is being forced to get rid of  his service dog Snickers, just because the five-year-old is a Pit bull-mix.

Sak was a police officer in Chicago for 32 years, almost half that time as a tactical officer. Now retired, he needs the dog for assistance after he suffered a debilitating stroke that left him with no feeling on the right side of his body.  Sak told the Chicago Sun-Times, “I have spasms on my right side where the leg gives out whenever I get upset or try to do too much. When Snickers sees that my hand is moving, he sits down by me right away and waits for me to tell him what to do. Usually, he goes to get my wife so she can help me get back in the chair. Without him, I feel lost.”

Last month, Sak moved to the town of Aurelia, Iowa to be near his ailing mother-in-law. Soon after, he and his wife Peggy were called to a city council meeting and told they needed to get rid of Snickers the next day or the dog could be seized and euthanized.

The dog was immediately moved to a boarding facility outside of the town limits, and Sak is without his service companion. That means his 87-year-old mother in law is now taking care of him.

The story has obviously captured the hearts of Americans, who are outraged - as they should be. But this isn’t an isolated case. Breed Specific Legislation has been enacted in communities large and small across the nation, essentially outlawing breeds including the American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Bulldog – or more importantly, any dog that looks likes one of these breeds. People just like you and me have had to surrender their family pets - or move to a new city – because our dogs have broad heads or short tails or otherwise look like a “pit bull.”

Until now, have you paid attention to that?

It’s understandable that communities would be cautious about allowing people to harbor dangerous dogs. The problem is that identifying a dog as dangerous soley by breed or physical characterstics alone doesn’t necessarily identify its behavior. And as Bill Bruce, Calgary’s Director of Animal and By-Law Services, says so eloquently in this video, BSL “attempts to deal with the dog, not the problem; the problem is the owner” and “when it’s that broad brushed you catch the wrong fish in the net” by polarizing a community rather than bringing it together to solve the actual problem.


In fact, it’s a myth that you can identify a dog’s breed without an actual pedigree. Despite our desire for purebred dogs, according to the National Canine Research Council (NCRC):

“Recent research has confirmed that it is impossible to breed label dogs of unknown history and genetics solely on the basis of their appearance. And at least half of the dogs in the United States are mixed breed dogs! Nevertheless, animal controls and shelter workers continue to assign single breed descriptors to mixed breed dogs.” 

So we can’t really tell what breed a dog is simply by looking at it; without a breed pedigree, a mutt is still a mutt, no matter how big his head is.

That’s not to minimize the number of dog bites that don’t result in fatalities. A dog bite hurts – a lot.  But there isn’t any accurate way to tally what kind of dogs make those bites because there is no national system in the United States for compiling the information. That’s right. Every community keeps a record their own way and in fact, some communities don’t even keep a records of dog bites at all.

And what is a bite, anyway? Every community has a different definition. Does it mean the contact breaks the skin or doesn’t break the skin? Requires medical attention or doesn’t require medical attention? In some cases, simply having contact with dog saliva is a bite; in other cases, a bite needs to draw blood and require a trip to the doctor.

So let’s sum up: there’s no way to clearly idenify a dog breed without a pedigree for proof. There are no actual statistics on dog bites or what kinds of dogs cause those bites. There isn’t even a uniform definition of what constitutes a bite.

And yet, communities all across America have passed legistlation that results in dogs being banned, outlawed and in many cases confiscated and euthanized.

And in Aurelia, Iowa, it resulted in one man having his service dog taken away, simply because someone doesn’t like the way it looks.

Do you care about Breed Specific Legislation now?

The Animal Farm Foundation has filed a lawsuit against the city of Aurelia, Iowa, asserting that Snickers is a service dog and medically required to reside with Sak, and is legally allowed to do so under the Americans with Disabilities Act. (You can read the motion here.)  Stay tuned; hopefully Snickers will be back with Sak soon. And hopefully, the story will open the eyes of dog owners to Breed Specific Legislation in their communities. Today, pit bulls. Tomorrow … your dog?

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  • Selwyn Marock

    The Council should be made to pay the legal costs in this action out of their own pockets and not be allowed to pay out of taxpayers money.
    May these Bastards all choke on their Turkey-bones.

  • http://NewMexicoPetsAlive Eva Matos

    Taking a disabled man’s service dog. Is this city council made up of imbeciles. There are laws for the disabled, which this town is clearly in violation of. Get a Lawyer Sir and and sue the pants off of this ignorant town and get your precious dog back. BSL is a law that is idiotic and the people who are trying to get this bill passed are idiots. They have no idea what this breed of dog is and have not read or investigated–in other words done their homework on this specific breed of dog.
    Tell you what my dog will not be taken away from me, I will put up a fight. My dogs pedigree can be traced for more than 20 years and I have both her geneolgy chart and APBT registry papers. Yes, my dog is an American Pit Bull Terrier. I have had many of these dogs in the past and have not had one complaint or bite incident with any of them. I did have a Minature Pinscher, who frightened anyone who came to my house, if she let you past the fence. I can’t even count how many times she bit visitors. I always warned them to not turn around to leave–she would take that opportunity to grab them by the ankles and calves and bite. She drew blood everytime. This small dog was the terror of the yard, while all of my Pit bulls ran around with no problem.
    People all over wake up and let your voices be heard–our poor Pitties can’t speak for themselves. There are many states who are trying to pass BSL laws all over the USA. Tell them we won’t stand for it. Get active or your family member will be the next one taken and euthanized a nice word for KILLED.

  • Dan

    Why is this such an absolute? Where is the proportional response to the problem? People aren’t dieing of dog bites; dog bites are generally rare anyway. Don’t blame the dog, no matter what the breed. Instead, blame the stupid or lazy owner, and blame vastly overreaching community laws. We let people smoke cigarettes, and that kills more people than virtually any other single thing.
    In 2010 there were 34 known deaths from dog attacks in the US. 34.
    Proportional response?

    • Selwyn Marock

      For the record in the same year you mentioned 53 people were killed by Bees and the situation is getting worse as there are a breed of African Bees breeding in the desert of Nevada growing at quite a rate.
      The Media do not see enough sensationalism therefore failing politicos do not take up the cudgels and save us poor Perfect Humans from this impending Pandemic.

  • Pingback: Aurelia, IA man says goodbye to service dog – KTIV | Pet Society Secrets()

  • valerie crook

    this is just the most assinine thing i have ever heard in my life! how can a city take a disabled persons service dog away from them??? it’s people like this that give american’s a bad name. they’re making us look like idiots!!! good lord…this man has served our country and our city of chicago for many years…and this is the thanks he gets??? thank God i don’t live Aurelia. i hope this war veteran and civil servant gets his dog back and soon!!!

  • Kristen

    I think this is awful!!! I heard it on the news, and I wanted to cry! So I looked up more info, so awful :(( I was crying and I mean I like dogs but I’m not the “DOG LOVER!!” this is all absolutely insanity I am SO pissed. Certain things hit people and this really did me!! We will know on Wednesday (the court date) what the final outcome for snickers (the doggie) is. I really do feel so sad! There stupid hick town in Iowa has some DF rule about not having pit bulls bc some loser who never cld get a job except for meter person got bit. U know what Screw that DF! I want to write a letter about this stupid law 2 the mayor or SOmebody! This is complete and udder rediculousness it makes me sick! Everybody please say a quick prayer for James and Peggy and snickers! For gods sake he’s a guide dog! This needs to be outlawed and ASPC should get involved and all other organizations!

  • Pingback: Snickers the service dog to be reunited with retired police officer « Heavenly Creatures()

  • http://google Maxine Klein

    Thank you to the individual(s) who have a human heart and returned this loving creature to its owner. The Animal Farm Foundation should be ashamed of itself. It is not the breed that should be banned – it should be the circumstances in specific situations.

    What is happening to this world. We are regulating regulations just so persons have “important” jobs?

    Blessings all animal lovers.

    • Joanne Brokaw

      Maxine, the Animal Farm Foundation is the group that represented the Saks in their lawsuit. It was the town council of Aurelia, Iowa that banned the dog!


  • Jesse

    Unfortunately, towns like this have statistics on their side and they use them to enact BSL against Pits and their various mixes. However, Rotties and some of the other large breeds bred for combat like the large Terriers also have some pretty high numbers:

    Dog Attack Deaths and Maimings, U.S. & Canada, September 1982 to June 25, 2010
    By compiling U.S. and Canadian press accounts between 1982 and 2010,1 Merritt Clifton, editor of Animal People, shows the breeds most responsible for serious injury and death.

    The combination of pit bulls, rottweilers, presa canarios, and their mixes:
    80% of attacks that induce bodily harm
    70% of attacks to children
    83% of attack to adults
    69% of attacks that result in fatalities
    75% that result in maiming

    More at
    Here’s the problem. Dogs can sense fear (and other emotional states in people). If governments and other organizations label these dogs as hair-trigger killers then people are naturally going to be scared of them which can and will induce fear driven behavior on the part of the dog. Terriers including the Bulls, Pits and Staffordshires were originally bred to be killers (of animals) so once they go off the result is usually not good. Same for the Rotties and other combat breeds.

    I read somewhere awhile back (and now can’t find the citation) that most dog bites in total numbers are caused by Golden Retrievers. I also remember as a kid in the 50s that German Shepard Dogs were once considered the most dangerous breed. It’s all nonsense. Any dog can bite if poorly socialized and treated and even the smallest breeds can inflict serious damage on a child or adult appendage.

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  • Ally

    Since this was a Service Dog, it is covered by ADA, and BSL should not apply to it. I really hope that Officer Sak does not just let this go at getting his Service Dog back. I hope that he fights since the town broke Federal Law.
    Btw, I do agree that the BSL are asinine. Enforce laws that were already in place and punish bad owners, not the entire breed. And it is a fight that needs to be fought, however in this case the stronger case would be to go against the town for violating the ADA

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  • Eli Wrinn

    I really really feel that breed specific legislation needs to be illegal. A puppy growing to be vicious isn’t according to the breed of dog, but on who raised the dog, and for what purpose.

  • PitsarePerfect

    so… this is what it’s come to? taking somebody’s service dog out of blatant ignorance? really?
    I feel so sorry for this poor man and his dog, and the city should be made to pay for all of the legal fees for this man. this is crap. That dog is a service dog and is doing something good for the community. Why not go after the dogfighters that are using pits for evil instead of castigating a man for owning a pit bull as a service dog???

  • Kathleen J. Conway

    Dear World,
    I have had a Staffordshire Bull Terrier for ten years. she flew across the country (S.D.-N.Y)
    she never left my side. At first I, too was leary of her breed , but we quickly fell in Love and
    soon everyone Loved her. The neighbors children arranged this on there own, whomever
    completed their homework first, was the first to get to come over to play with her. I brought
    her with me everywhere I went ( out of respect, I never took her inside any restaurants )
    Recently, a parlolee was released next door to my home and along with seven other dogs
    she was poisoned. I cannot imagine Ret. Mr James Saks emotional state at this time. This
    breed has the highest level of loyalty, and the same goes for Snickers emotional state, they
    BELONG TOGETHER! If their is anything I can do to help please e-mail me, My heart goes
    out to you both and what has been done here is a CRIME.

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