Monday, August 31, 2015

TOP STORY >> Therapy dog is a banned breed

Ahmeah Simmons, who has Asperger’s syndrome, with her pit bull dog Edith, which is a banned breed in Jacksonville. Ahmeah’s mother ignored the city’s request to remove the dog from city limits, and said that the dog serves a therapeutic purpose to Ahmeah, helping her live a better life and communicate more.
Leader staff writer

A Jacksonville mom says she did not move her pit bull outside Jacksonville city limits — after learning the breed was banned — because an Americans with Disabilities Act representative advised her not to. The dog was seized for the second time this month, is being held at the city’s animal shelter and may be sent to an out-of-state rescue group.

Amanda Simmons, a single mother of three, also said she’s locked into a lease until November and doesn’t have the money to move. She shared that she is on a limited income and doesn’t receive child support or any governmental assistance, aside from SNAP (food stamps).

Simmons explained that the dog, Edith, is her daughter Ahmeah’s only friend. The 11-year-old has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and had been prescribed the therapy dog by her doctor.

The mom wants Edith back before there is any “bad blood” because, she says, she understands the city’s animal control workers are just doing their jobs. “There shouldn’t be a reason why I can’t get her back.”

At the same time, Simmons claims she didn’t know a warrant was needed and that others with pit bulls in Jacksonville had told her requesting those is how they’ve kept their dogs from being seized.

She also said she wasn’t advised to obtain a lawyer during her January court case, the first time Edith was seized.

The Lancaster Law Firm has set up a page at to collect donations that will “cover legal fees, fines, and whatever is needed to protect Edith from the ban.”

The dog, about 15 months old, is being held at the Jacksonville Animal Shelter pending the outcome of a trial, the page states.

City officials would not comment on the case because Simmons had hired an attorney, but the mayor’s office emailed several public documents to The Leader.

Simmons said she moved to Jacksonville from Minnesota in November and that the breed isn’t banned in the North.

The first time Edith was taken, she paid hundreds in fines to get the dog back and signed a form stating the pit bull would be sent outside city limits to 8407 Easy St. in North Little Rock, a city where that breed is also banned. The Easy Street address is actually in Sherwood. Pit bulls aren’t allowed there.

As for the ADA representative’s advice, according to, the law covers service dogs. “A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability,” the website reads. It states, “Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”

Edith was registered through as an emotional support animal (ESA) in July 2014, Simmons said.

The site’s frequently-asked questions note that an ESA “is not required to go through any specific training but they must have the same training that a typical pet would have to get along in society and not cause danger or harm to others.”

A letter of prescription is required from the handler’s physician. The website also offers “if you do not have your doctor’s letter yet, you can get one from our mental health professional” and a link to an evaluation form.

An ESA can accompany the handler on a plane or live in housing that would otherwise not allow pets, according to the FAQs.

There are exceptions to Jacksonville’s ban, but ESAs are not one of them. The city’s 2007 ordinance states “any animal used for law enforcement or other governmental purposes by the police department, military personnel, or other local, state or federal agency(ies) are exempt.” To own a service dog, one must qualify as disabled under the federal ADA.
Still, Simmons says, her daughter needs Edith.

“Ahmeah doesn’t make friends at school…She’s just quiet. She just doesn’t talk. You literally have to pull conversation out of her…Edith is like her sister,” the mom said.

“She really talks to her like she’s a person. She paints her toenails. She puts bows in her hair…This dog has literally slept with her every night.”

When the 11-year-old becomes upset, she’ll run to her room, cry and get under the covers, Simmons continued. “Edith will lean over her and protect her.”

The family is also worried about Edith’s health because she is on special food and her breed is “prone to getting Parvo,” a potentially fatal virus.

Simmons said, during her dog’s first week-and-a-half stint at the city shelter in January, “she wouldn’t eat, and she was choking up foam and had yellow diarrhea. When I got her back, her whole bottom was stained yellow.

“She was sick and shaken, and the pink of her skin, that’s supposed to be like a really pastel pink underneath her gray coat, was bright red. Her eyes were bloodshot. Her mouth was red…It killed me to see her like that.”

That is why the shelter released Edith even before Simmons’ January court date, the mom said.

Both times the dog was seized, she had not bitten, attacked anyone or caused any other problems, Simmons pointed out. People called on animal control to pick her up after they saw her in a yard.

This month, “the only reason she was outside (in a friend’s yard) is because we were getting our house sprayed, pest control, so she couldn’t be in the house…didn’t want to get her sick,” Simmons said. The friend tried to take the blame by saying Edith had been sold to her.

Then, the mom said, an animal control officer told her in front of her children — ages 7 to 11 — Edith would be put down in three days, which is what the ordinance says will happen on a second offense. “My kids all hit the floor.”

Simmons also told The Leader that city officials called her later in the week to say the dog would be sent to an out-of-state rescue group because she was not aggressive, after the mom had spoken with a local television station.

Simmons questioned, too, why Edith couldn’t go to nearby rescues or shelters, like those in Cabot or Sherwood. They can adopt her out to someone who lives in the county. Several groups across the state have offered to take Edith so she doesn’t have to be at the shelter until the case is resolved — a process that could take up to a year — Simmons noted. Then the family might be able to get their dog back, she said.

Simmons doesn’t agree with the Jacksonville ordinance, but commented that the shelter’s director is innocent in this. “If anything, you know, I disobeyed the law, quote, unquote. I should be punished, and I’m willing to accept that, not that I believe it’s right.

“But, in the meantime, (there are) criminals out here, there’s pedophiles and there’s rapists and there’s murderers that get a bond. When they get taken to jail, they can bond out for money. My dog didn’t even do anything, and she’s sitting in jail.”

Simmons called breed-specific bans “stupid” and a legal way to be “racist” that wouldn’t be acceptable if applied to people.