Disabled Pennsylvania man's service dog not eligible for food stamp benefits, court rules
James Douris lost a key court decision Tuesday in his yearlong effort to qualify his male boxer, who is fed everything Douris eats, as a dependent member of his household in calculating food stamp benefits.
A three-judge Commonwealth Court panel upheld an earlier Department of Public Welfare's determination that the dog was ineligible because he is not human.
"This court is sympathetic to [Douris'] argument that his service dog is a necessity for him due to his disability, and that he lacks the funds to properly feed his service dog," wrote Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer. "We hope that there is some other state or federal program that might provide for the maintenance and upkeep of [the] dog."
Douris, 55, a resident of Newtown in the Philadelphia suburbs, is a disabled and unemployed veteran who lives alone and relies on the dog to pull his wheelchair and fetch items. Although Douris has represented himself in the legal proceedings, he said Tuesday that news of his case prompted lawyers to offer their help, and he plans to appeal the decision.
"This is a mistake on the part of the court and also the welfare board," said Douris, who cited security concerns in deciding not to disclose the dog's name. "My phone's been ringing off the hook."
He appealed a Bucks County Assistance Office decision to grant him $176 a month in food stamps in February 2009, saying the amount was insufficient to feed himself and the dog. Douris later testified that he feeds the animal dog food as well as "meat, poultry, vegetables and everything [he] eats," according to Jubelirer's written opinion.
The dog requires supplemental nutrition because of its work for him, Douris said.
Extending benefits to the dog would fundamentally change the food stamp program, Jubelirer wrote. He rejected Douris' argument that the denial of food stamps to the dog would effectively kill the animal and therefore constitute an act of criminal animal cruelty.
Douris said Tuesday the dog has not been starving and that he would not let that happen.
Department of Public Welfare spokesman Mike Race said the agency was sympathetic to Douris but pleased that the court ruled in its favor.
"As the court noted, federal law is ’'unambiguously clear' that food stamp benefits are intended for humans only," Race said.
-- Associated Press
Photo: Dog food on supermarket shelves. Credit: Los Angeles Times