Service dog case heads to federal court - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Service dog case heads to federal court


MADISON (WKOW) -- A Madison man is preparing for a federal trial over the alleged violation of his rights after he was forced to leave a restaurant and city park with his service dog.

Stephen Bottila, 37, claims his ejection from public places by Madison police officers with his German shepherd mix , Justice, is a violation of his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.   Bottila is asking or $75,000 in damages and eight days of training for Madison police officers in current disability law.

Bottila told 27 News Justice is a seizure-alert dog, capable of sensing the onset of his epileptic seizures and warning him.  

"He started telling me, with a pathetic look, that I was going into seizure,"   Bottila told 27 News.   Botilla also said Justice's barks, growling and other behavior preceeded seizure episodes.

Bottila told 27 News in 2007, police forced him and the dog to leave a bagel store on State Street, and Peace Park.   In a filed deposition, a former Madison police officer stated the dog did not have a harness or any other item to identify it as a service animal when she spotted it in the park, which does not permit dogs.   Bottila said such identification is not required.  

While using a vest or harness to identify a service dog is common, Wisconsin Academy for Graduate Service Dogs (WAGS) spokesman Aaron Backer echoed there is no identification requirement.

Coordinator Tracy Miller of the disability-rights group Access to Independence told 27 News there is also no requirment a disabled person produce paperwork to verify either a medical condition or a dog's service role.

Bottila said he wants to have Justice attend next week's trial.  

"He's going to be evidence, with his behavior, and grooming and everything."

Bottila said attornies for the city of Madison are challenging his dog's proposed presence in the courtroom.   City attorney Michael May and attorney Steven Zach have yet to return phone calls for comment on the Bottila case.

Last month, Madison's Equal Opportunities Commission rejected a claim of discrimination from Bottila stemming from a 2007 visit to a McDonald's restaurant by Bottila and the dog.   A hearing examiner ruled restaurant personnel did not force Bottila to leave over Justice.   The examiner also noted there's no credible evidence to confirm the dog's ability to help with Bottila's disability.

In May 2008, police officers used a taser on Bottila as they tried to remove him from a McDonald's restaurant in Madison after he entered the restaurant with his dog.   Bottila faces two misdemeanor charges, including resisting an officer.

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