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HARRISBURG – Food stamps won’t be helping a Bucks County disabled man fill his service dog’s food bowl.

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 a Department of Public Welfare 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 Renée Cohn Jubelirer. “We hope that there is some other state or federal program that might provide for the maintenance and upkeep of [the] dog.”

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Douris, 55, of Newtown, 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 legal proceedings, he said Tuesday that news of his case prompted lawyers to offer help, and he planned to appeal.

“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.

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. The judges also 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 that the dog had not been starving and that he would not let that happen.

Welfare Department 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.


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