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Sonia Miller has agreed to part with Bela, who is now staying with a friend. "It's like mourning the loss of a child," she said.

Pit bull's move from North Sacramento mobile home park settles dispute

Published: Tuesday, May. 1, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 4B
Last Modified: Tuesday, May. 1, 2012 - 9:18 am

Bela the pit bull terrier has been permanently banished from her human companion's North Sacramento mobile home park.

The burly dog has been the object of a legal fight between Sonia Miller, who says Bela helps her with mobility problems, and the manager of Village Green Mobile Home Park.

As detailed in The Bee in March, residents of the park have claimed Bela is vicious, and manager Ron Johnson moved to evict Miller by the end of last month unless she got rid of the dog.

Miller, 76, fought back, calling Bela a "companion animal" that is protective but not dangerous. She got a lawyer and argued that the dog was being punished because of her breed.

In the end, Miller agreed to remove Bela from the premises in exchange for Johnson allowing her to keep her place at the mobile home park. Moving would have cost her and her roommate Sandra Thomas tens of thousands of dollars, money they said they do not have.

"I tell you, it's like mourning the loss of a child," a tearful Miller said Monday of losing Bela. She said the dog is now living with a friend and getting training to become a certified service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which would prevent landlords from banning her.

"I miss her, but we get to see her a lot," Miller said.

Lawyer Joseph Carroll, who represented the mobile home community, called the resolution reasonable.

"She removed the dog and paid attorney's fees, but she got to stay in her house," he said. "The dog was the only problem anyone really had with her."

Residents of Village Green have filed at least six written complaints about negative encounters with Bela, Carroll said.

The muscular pit bull terrier – with the breed's background in the underground fighting industry and mounting reports of unprovoked attacks – has sparked legal disputes across the country.

Sacramento attorney Jill Telfer, a disability rights specialist who represented Miller pro bono in the case, recently overturned an eviction aimed at Penny, a pit bull and certified service animal owned by a Folsom family.

Bela's case was different, she said, because although she "never engaged in what I would call dangerous behavior, she is not ready" to be a service dog.

"She doesn't yet qualify, and that's why we settled," Telfer said.

Miller said she is struggling to get out of chairs and her car without Bela's help in pulling her upright. "I'm probably going to have to get a walker soon."

In the meantime, she has to be content with seeing Bela a couple of times a week.

"Bela is a wonderful dog, but she's a little fearful," said Telfer. "We're putting her through proper training, and I think she'll be a wonderful service dog someday."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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