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Tag: federal court

School district settles lawsuit over banning autistic student’s service dog

The fight between a Florida school district and a student with autism who wanted to bring his service dog to class is over — with no real resolution.

The Collier County School Board approved a settlement last week that will pay William and Brenda Hughes $125,000 to settle a lawsuit brought forward on behalf of their son, Derek.

The suit alleged that the district violated the Individuals With Disabilities Act, the American Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

In return for the Hughes dropping the complaint, and agreeing not to enroll their son in Collier County’s schools again, the district forked over the money and admitted no wrongdoing.

Hughes and his wife pulled their autistic son, Derek, from Collier public schools several years ago. He now attends school in Chester County, Pennsylvania, according to NaplesNews.com

The family had argued that the school district was negligent by not allowing the Pine Ridge Middle School student to bring his service dog to school.

Justice: Lawyer fined for snubbing service dog

justiceA Colorado Springs attorney accused of not allowing a disabled woman and her service dog into his office because he feared his new carpet might be soiled will pay $50,000 as part of a consent decree approved by a federal court today.

A November 2009 complaint accused Patric LeHouillier of violating the Americans with Disabilities act by barring Joan Murnane, a veterinarian with brain and other injuries that affect her balance, from entering his  law office because her service dog was with her.

The complaint says LeHouillier and his firm, LeHouillier & Associates, expressed concern that the Australian shepherd might soil its new carpet, according to a report in Westword.

That decision, under the consent decree, will cost him $50,000 –  $30,000 for Murnane, $10,000 for her husband and another $10,000 for a civil penalty.

“For almost two decades, the ADA has ensured that individuals with disabilities are guaranteed full and equal access to public accommodations, both large and small,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department is unrelenting in [eradicating] discrimination against people with disabilities and ensuring that owners and operators of public accommodations recognize their obligations to provide equal access.”

The consent decree was approved by Judge Marcia S. Krieger in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.

Under its terms, LeHouillier and his firm will be required to adopt an ADA-compliant service animal policy and post the policy in a conspicuous location, post a “Service Animals Welcome” sign, and provide training to staff.

The press release noted that a service animal is any animal individually trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability — and that the classification is not limited to dogs that assist the blind.

It includes, the press release says, dogs who alert individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds, warn persons about impending seizures or other medical conditions, perform tasks for persons with psychiatric disabilities and provide physical supports for individuals with mobility issues.

More information about the ADA, including how to file an ADA complaint with the Justice Department, is available on the ADA home page at www.ada.gov.

The Justice Department also has a toll-free ADA Information Line (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TTY).

(Photo: Cafepress.com)

Chihuahua brouhaha: Was movie idea stolen?

beverly-hills-chihuahuaA Houston-area kennel worker claims the movie “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” was, basically, his idea, and that the Walt Disney Company stole it from him.

Zenon Yracheta has sued the entertainment giant in federal court, saying the similarities between the movie and a story he wrote called “The 3 Chihuahuas” are many — and that he spoke with Disney officials about his idea in 2006.

Disney has asked a  federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the movie, which was released last year and grossed $130 million, bears little resemblance to Yracheta’s script, according to the Houston Chronicle.

While both stories feature hero dogs, villain dogs, talking dogs, traveling dogs and chase scenes, they have vastly different premises, Disney says.

In Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” a pampered California Chihuahua is taken by its owner’s niece to Mexico, gets lost, nearly winds up in a dog-fighting ring but escapes and is chased by a mean fight master, a sidekick and his nasty dog before finding her roots, romance, and her way back home.

In “The 3 Chihuahuas,” three Chihuahuas escape from their jobs as acrobats in a South Texas circus and head to Hollywood while pursued by their mean ringmaster, a sidekick and his nasty dog. As with the movie, the Chihuahuas have different ethnic personas. In the end they are rescued by a kind woman who turns out to be Beyoncé Knowles’ aunt. The three dogs eventually wind up living in a California mansion with the singer.

Yracheta said he was enraged when he saw the movie last year, jotting down the similarities between the film and his story.

Yracheta said he got the idea for “The 3 Chihuahuas” after three Chihuahuas ran in front of his car in a rural town near Houston. He worked up a three-page story, then commissioned a screenwriter to write the screenplay.

Disney denies the screenwriters saw or were told about his work.

Romero pleads not guilty in dragging death

Steven Clay Romero — accused in dragging a dog named Buddy to his death at Colorado National Monument– pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty charges in federal court Wednesday.

His sister, 32-year-old Melissa Lockhart, failed to appear at her hearing, and a warrant for her arrest was issued.

Romero is accused of dragging the dog for three miles behind his pick-up truck last month. Lockhart, who allegedly stole the dog from a couple in Delta, reportedly told Romero to get rid of Buddy after he mauled a family cat. She is also charged with animal cruelty.

In court yesterday, Romero’s attorney asked for more time to review the case. He told the judge he has received more than 930 pages of discovery evidence including numerous CD’s and DVD’s, according to KJCT in Grand Junction.

Before the hearing, supporters of Buddy delivered to the U.S. District Attorney petitions with more than 100,000 signatures the suspects receive the maximum sentence if convicted.

(For our previous posts on Buddy, click here.)

Sister of alleged dog dragger arrested

The sister of the man accused of torturing and killing Buddy, a German shepherd who was dragged for miles behind a pick-up truck, now faces charges of stealing the dog the day before it died.

The sister, Melissa Lockhart, 32, told police she took the dog and another one because she thought they had been abandoned, the Denver Post reports.

Lockart, of Fruita, faces felony theft charges. Her brother, Steven Clay Romero, faces animal cruelty charges after Buddy was found dead Dec. 30 at Colorado National Monument with a rope around his neck.

Investigators say the dog was dragged about two miles before it died.

Police say Buddy and another dog were taken Dec. 29 from the bed of a truck in downtown Delta. A witness wrote down Lockhart’s license plate number. 

In federal court Monday, Romero told U.S. Magistrate Judge Laird Milburn that he has been harassed in jail by other inmates since his arrest Thursday. Romero is being held without bond in the Mesa County Jail and has been appointed a public defender.

Lockhart, who surrendered to police Saturday, was released on a $5,000 bond.

An online petition demanding the maximum three-year penalty be imposed on Romero if convicted has gathered nearly 16,000 signatures.

No decision in reuniting man with his dog

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A one-time school board president who in less than two years lost his wife, home and then his dog, appeared in federal court in Dauphin County Thursday to try and get his dog back.

But no testimony was heard in the case of Miles Thomas and his seized collie, Baron.  Instead attorneys were given 30 days to work the matter out amongst themselves, the Harrisburg Patriot-News reports.

“I would feel very badly if we couldn’t resolve this,” said District Judge John E. Jones III. “There is a very reasonable path to a reasonable agreement. … I am very hopeful that this conundrum can be worked out.”

Baron was picked up by the Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area in July after a police officer found the dog alone in Thomas’ car. The windows were slightly rolled down, but the Humane Society says the dog was panting, without water and covered with feces. Thomas was eating lunch at a restaurant nearby.

The Humane Society, while it says its actions were justified, has offered few other details, and Thomas’ attorney has said that Thomas, 73, though he was briefly homeless, deserves his dog back.

” I can’t get into the detail of how it’ll be worked out. I hope in the next 30 days, we can put this litigation behind us and move forward,” Andrew Ostrowski, attorney for Thomas, told CBS21.

Thomas, a former stock broker, once served as president of the Harrisburg School Board. In the past two years, he lost his wife, Anna, to Alzheimer’s, and later his home, after going into debt trying to cover her medical bills.

The federal judge ordered Ostrowski and Amy Kaunas, the executive director of the Harrisburg Area Humane Society to reach an out-of-court agreement in the case.

“I’m going to follow the judge’s orders and not comment on the case,” said  Kaunas. Kaunas left the courthouse with security, and the Humane Society told CBS 21 News that they had to hire protection after receiving threats in connection with the case.

The hearing ended with Thomas announcing that he would be able to visit Baron, who he hasn’t seen since July 26.

He lost his wife, his home, and then his dog

thomasTwenty years ago, Miles D. Thomas was a successful stockbroker, and president of the school board in Harrisburg, Pa.

In the past two years, life has been less kind.

He lost his wife to Alzheimer’s in late 2007. Then, unable to pay the bills that had mounted for her care, he lost his house and turned to living in a series of cheap motels, or sleeping in his car.

Last month, authorities seized his dog, a 7-year-old collie named Baron, when Thomas left him in his car while getting a bite to eat. Because he’s homeless, apparently, he hasn’t been able to get him back since.

Hearing of Thomas’ plight, an attorney filed a suit in federal court on behalf of the  73-year-old former Harrisburg School Board president, seeking to get the dog back from the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area Inc. The agency maintains that the dog is being held as part of a cruelty case but has declined to release details, and Thomas has not been charged with any offense.

“To me, he’s the greatest thing I have in the world,” Thomas said of his dog, the fourth in a line of collies the family has owned. “I love him so much, yet they try to keep me from him. I can’t understand that.”

Thomas says it was 76 degrees on the day he left Baron in the car, with the windows open, and that he was gone less than an hour.

When he returned, the dog was gone and an officer with the Humane Society  informed him his dog had been seized. 

Last week, U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones III issued a temporary restraining order barring the Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area from destroying or transferring ownership of Baron. A hearing is scheduled Sept. 3.

“I couldn’t imagine letting this man go without his dog,” Attorney Andrew Ostrowski told the Harrisburg Patriot-News. “He cares deeply for the dog, and he’s seriously affected by this. In my view, it’s a federal, constitutional civil rights issue, and I won’t shrink from it.”

Ostrowski said he’s also pursuing a civil suit that seeks damages.

Amy Kaunas, Humane Society of Harrisburg Area executive director, said  that Thomas’ dog was seized as part of a cruelty investigation initiated by a referral from the Middletown police.

She declined to discuss specifics of the case, but said animal-cruelty statutes require that animals be provided with adequate shelter and access to food, water and veterinary care.

Thomas fell more than $100,000 in debt after his wife spent three years in a nursing home, the Harrisburg newspaper reported. But he insisted he always took care of his dog. “I took better care of him than I did myself,” he said.

Since early August, Thomas has been living with Stephen Conklin, a friend of attonrey Ostrowski’s, who took Thomas in at his farm in York County.

Now that Thomas has a stable home situation, Conklin said the thinks the Humane Society should return the dog to him.

Ostrowski, contends that the animal agency pressured Thomas into signing over his rights to Baron two days after the dog was taken by the agency’s canine officer, threatening him with a $750 fine and up to 90 days in jail unless he turned over the dog. 

(Photo: CHRIS KNIGHT, The Patriot-News)

Humane Society leads lawsuit against Petland

The Humane Society of the United States and other consumers have filed a class action lawsuit against Petland, Inc., alleging it has conspired to sell unhealthy puppy mill puppies to unsuspecting consumers.

In addition to Petland, the nation’s largest chain of pet stores that sells dogs, the lawsuit names Hunte Corp., one of the country’s largest distributors of puppies, as a defendant.

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Phoenix late Monday, alleges that Petland and Hunte violated federal law and state laws by misleading thousands of consumers across the country into believing that the puppies sold in Petland stores are healthy and come from high-quality breeders.

Many of the puppies sold by Petland, HSUS claims, come either directly from puppy mills or puppy brokers such as Hunte, which the organization says operates as a middleman between the mills and Petland’s retail stores.

Read more »

Dog shot by police becomes a federal case

A federal court will hear the case of a woman who claims her constitional rights were violated when police in Milwaukee shot her 7-year-old mutt four times in 2004.

The case of Bubba, a Labrador/springer spaniel mix, appears to be the first such case of its type to go to a federal civil rights trial in Milwaukee, where it is set to begin before a jury this week.

Bubba’s owner, Virginia Viilo, sued the city and two police officers in in 2005, claiming her constitutional rights were violated when an officer fired shots into her already-injured dog.

Over the past decade or so, Milwaukee police have shot more than 400 dogs in the line of duty, according to court records, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported. About 25 of those, including the shooting of Bubba, were fatal.

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