Town bans veteran’s Pit Bull therapy dog

Belleville, Kan., is a small town just south of the Nebraska border. Kansas Army National Guardsman Specialist Milton “Bo” Ready has called Belleville home for nearly two decades of his life.

Ready has already been served a citation for owning a vicious animal by the city of Belleville. (Photo credit: KCTV 5)

From 2009, Ready was deployed to Egypt. But when he returned to the states in 2010, the veteran National Guardsman faced an entirely different battle — Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and severe depression.

“I would blow up and break things, and sometimes it would be the smallest thing that I would blow up on,” Ready tells KCTV.

SPC Ready knew full well that he needed help — and fast. He sought assistance from the Veterans Administration Hospital in Topeka. Ready started going to therapy, speaking with VA psychologists, but as his symptoms worsened, the veteran checked himself into the hospital for long-term care. It was during a 7-week stay over Christmas last year that Ready would attend a pet therapy class, where he met two dogs that would change his outlook: Liam and Leonidas — rescued Pit Bull Terriers who became certified Game Dog Guardian therapy dogs.

“I had joy being with them and petting them,” Ready remembers. Sessions with these gentle Pitties became the first positive experiences the struggling veteran had had in months. He knew right then he wanted to get his own dog. And he found the perfect companion in an 8-week old Pit Bull Terrier puppy. A mechanic with the National Guard, SPC Ready decided to name his new puppy Diesel.

“I got my puppy Diesel while I was still at the VA and I would visit him when I could,” Ready remembers. “When I returned home to Belleville with Diesel, I lived peacefully and had no incidents. I took Diesel on my runs with me and for rides in the car…I basically took him everywhere.”

Whenever SPC Ready feels a panic attack coming on, or has a terrifying flashback of his time overseas, he turns to Diesel. Even just petting his dog has a calming effect, Ready says.

But Diesel didn’t have the same effect on members of the Belleville city council. Belleville, unfortunately, has Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) on the books, and has banned Rottweilers, Boxers, and yes, Pit Bull Terriers, from town since 1984. The town had never actually enforced the breed bans they created, but seeing Diesel out and about Belleville with SPC Ready turned out to be just the catalyst to change all that.

“If we have an ordinance it needs to be enforced,” Belleville Councilmember Melissa McReynolds VanMeter said at an April 2013 council meeting. She continued by explaining that at least two town residents were in possession of vicious dogs. One of those so-called vicious dogs was Diesel, SPC Ready’s calm companion and lifeline.

The councilmember’s comments were just enough to restart the BSL machine in Belleville. In July, SPC Ready was notified of Belleville’s ban on Pit Bulls. He was then served a citation for owning a vicious animal. Shocked, Ready contacted an attorney, and he says he plans to fight the town’s decision.

“This dog is more than a companion,” says Ready’s co-counsel Katie Barnett. “It provides a service to him. It comforts him when he’s having an anxiety attack.”

SPC Ready and his legal team believe Diesel should be excluded from the town’s breed ban. But Belleville City Attorney Rachel Zenger says Diesel would not qualify as an exception. Though Diesel does provide comfort to his owner, he is not a registered service dog. In the eyes of the law, Diesel is simply a Pit Bull.

“It was taken into consideration by the council, and they felt it was the best decision for Belleville to continue to ban certain breeds,” Zenger says.

Ready insists the town has never enforced the breed ban before, and that he isn’t the only one in possession of a banned dog.

“I’ve seen many dogs around here that are illegal,” Ready says. “It seems like they targeted me because I have my dog out in the public. I run my dog.”

When he gathers enough money, Ready says he would like to have Diesel earn an official service dog certification. But this special training could take months — or even years, and SPC Ready knows he and Diesel might not have that long.

For the time being, Ready is keeping Diesel indoors as much as possible while he and his attorneys work out a plan. Ready’s case is set to appear before a municipal judge later this year.

But if the Belleville breed ban should stand, or if authorities threaten to seize his dog, SPC Ready says the choice is simple — he would leave Belleville for good to keep Diesel safe.

“I wouldn’t have a choice,” he says, “because I’m not getting rid of my dog.”

Sources: KCTV5.com, GameDogGuardian.com, Best Friends Animal Society