Chewy, an emotional service pit bull, still is living in Arapahoe -- for now -- despite a legal setback in his family's fight to keep him in the south-central Nebraska town that banned the breed in 2016.

Attorney Nate Mustion said an injunction filed in Furnas County District Court last year remains in place, preventing police there from making Brooke Wilkison get rid of the dog he got as a rescue almost four years ago.

But Mustion said Wednesday the likelihood that the dog will get to stay is "very slight," in light of a ruling by the Nebraska Supreme Court last week.

The state's highest court shot down the arguments Arapahoe City Attorney Kevin Urbom made for why the court should reverse District Judge James E. Doyle IV's order last year blocking the town from enforcing its ordinance in Chewy's case and allowing Wilkison and his family to keep the dog.

The city attorney had argued that a provision in U.S. code exempts it from the Fair Housing Act because Wilkison's residence is a single-family home.

The city attorney also argued that Chewy wasn't a certified support animal.

Just the same, the court found that Wilkison, who has a second dog, had failed to prove that he needed to have this particular emotional support dog, rather than one of another breed not banned in town.

"Nothing in the FHA (Fair Housing Act) gives Brooke a right to his preferred option," the order said.

Said Mustion: "For my client it was a tough decision."

At trial, Wilkison, who has limited use of his left side because of a brain surgery in 1984, testified that his dog provides support for dealing with the frustration he experiences as a result of his physical limitations.

He said Chewy gets him up and moving around and motivated, keeps him calm, helps with his stress and is like one of the family.

Wilkison's physician assistant also testified that it was in his best interest that he be allowed to keep the dog as a therapy dog.

On the other side, the city argued that, given how easy it is for someone to register an animal online as an emotional support animal, it "diminishes and disparages those truly in need of a service animal."

"The payment of $69 to an internet provider does nothing to insure that the animal is properly trained to insure the safety of the public, and does nothing to assist a person with disabilities," Urbom wrote.

The Supreme Court wasn't persuaded, calling the distinction that Chewy was not a service dog as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act "inconsequential."

But the order, Mustion said, could help owners like the Wilkisons who live in towns that ban specific dog breeds, like American Staffordshire terriers, something he's been hearing is happening more these days.

The ruling provided a road map of sorts for the evidence that would need to be shown. For instance, testimony about the specific benefits the dog provides, about what benefits another dog not covered by the ordinance could provide, and about the specific therapeutic needs and how the dog meets them.

"At least now there's precedent out there," Mustion said.

As city attorney in McCook, Mustion sometimes prosecutes dog ordinances. He said they don't ban specific breeds there, and he'll never suggest it.

Despite public perception, he said, his German Shepherd has a stronger bite than a pit bull.

That likely will be at issue in the next step of Chewy's fight.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to Furnas County for the judge to consider Wilkison's two remaining claims, which allege the ordinance singled out certain breed owners and treated them differently without any rational purpose and deprived dog owners of their property without proof their dog was a vicious or dangerous animal.

Mustion is hoping it will be enough for the Wilkisons to be able to keep Chewy.

"They are very, very, very attached to this dog," he said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger.


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