Scrappy and Aleeah will be able to stay together!
Aleeah’s grandmother Elizabeth Spais spoke with BarkPost shortly after Tuesday’s hearing. She said that the city will allow Scrappy to stay, so long as he is muzzled in public and the family builds a taller fence at home.
“I was more than willing to do that,” Spais said. “I’m so happy.”
Spais said now that her family is safe, she plans to advocate for repealing Lakewood’s Pit Bull ban in favor of breed-neutral dog regulations.
But that’s in the future. Tonight, she said, her family will be going out to dinner to celebrate.
On March 15, the city of Lakewood, Ohio, will hold a hearing to determine if a 4-year-old girl with cystic fibrosis, Aleeah Williams, will lose her best friend in the world — and the creature whose comfort helps her endure painful procedures that allow her to breathe.
Aleeah’s dog Scrappy hasn’t been accused of doing anything wrong. Rather, he and his family are facing this terrible outcome because an animal control officer decided that Scrappy looks like a Pit Bull in a city where Pits and dogs looking like Pits are banned.
Aleeah Williams’ condition causes mucus to build in her airways. In order to breathe, twice a day Aleeah must wear a vibrating compression vest to shake the mucus loose.
It’s an uncomfortable procedure that Aleeah vehemently resisted and fought — until a year ago, when Aleeah’s father Tyler Williams brought home Scrappy, and one of Scrappy’s littermates.
Aleeah and her father lived in Cleveland at the time, a city with no “breed-specific legislation,” as laws that ban or otherwise restrict dogs by appearance or breed are called.
They moved in with Aleeah’s grandmother Elizabeth Spais after that, not knowing that Lakewood has banned Pits since 2008.
With Scrappy by her side, Aleeah readily underwent her treatments. Aleeah’s grandmother Elizabeth Spais told the Toledo Blade that the girl’s health improved as a result.
“She would sit there and hold [Scrappy], rock him like a baby, and sing to him,” Spais said to tbe paper. “She made up this song, ‘The Scrappy Song,’ that she sings.”
Some two months ago, an animal control officer visited Aleeah’s home to say that Scrappy appears to be a Pit Bull, and thus must leave town.
Lakewood’s anti-Pit Bull ordinance is expansive and does give the animal control officer broad authority to pick out which dogs can and can’t stick around. It bans:
[a]ny Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier breed of dog, any dog of mixed breed which is predominantly of one or more of such breeds, or any dog commonly known as a Pit bull, Pit Bull dog or Pit Bull Terrier; as determined by an Animal Control Officer.
But showing the near-futility of this kind of visual breed identification, Scrappy’s littermate was deemed not to be a Pit during that same visit.
“How can one be [a ‘Pit Bull’] and the other not be if they have the same parents?” Spais said to The Toledo Blade.
Dog trainer and advocate Kerry Stack, who owns Darwin Dogs in Lakewood, is struck by the injustice of this case — as with every case involving a good dog ripped from a loving family based on nothing more than how the dog looks.
Stack has been working with Aleeah and her family since mid-January.
She testified on the family’s behalf at a city council meeting urging the council to repeal the city’s Pit Bull ban, and has organized a rally for March 15, at the time of Scrappy’s hearing. She’s raising money to help pay for the family’s legal fees, and is asking supporters to sign an online petition.
“When you meet Aleeah and her grandma, you see a family doing the best they can with what they have,” Stack said.
Members of the Lakewood city council have expressed support, as well — citing multiple studies and reports showing breed bans like Lakewood’s to be ineffective at promoting public safety, while at the same time expensive and otherwise problematic to enforce.
“Personally, I don’t think this is a policy that has support in science,” said council president Sam O’Leary, according to Cleveland.com. “From a public policy and public safety standpoint there are more effective and comprehensive ways to address this issue than breed-specific language.”
Councilmember Dan O’Malley tells BarkPost he intends to be at the rally — and would also like to see a repeal of the ban.
“I think it’s time,” said O’Malley. “This case with Scrappy illustrates for us how important it is to change this law.”
But the repeal almost certainly won’t happen before Tuesday.
Attorney Phil Calabrese — who in January helped defeat a proposed Pit Bull ban in neighboring Shaker Heights — is representing the family at the March 15 hearing.
Calabrese said to BarkPost he has a variety of factual and legal arguments on Scrappy’s side — along with public policy, which strongly disfavors breed-specific legislation.
“And in addition, this case raises important questions about the role of government and the way that government interacts with citizens,” said Calabrese.
Spais told BarkPost she is also interested in the public policy issues here. She’d like to see Lakewood’s Pit Bull ban repealed. But right now she just wants to know that her granddaughter and Scrappy will be able to stay together.
Spais can’t bear imagining would it would be like to tell Aleeah, who has endured so much pain already in her four short years, that Scrappy now has to go away — what that would mean for Aleeah’s emotional well-being, what it would mean for her health.
“I just hope we have a positive outcome,” Spais said. “Right now, my primary focus is Aleeah keeping her dog.”
Images provided by Elizabeth Spais