Monday, April 4, 2011

Fido or Cujo? It all depends on your perspective

Is it possible to find a balance between people wishing to live in a community without pets and those individuals who truly have disabilities that can benefit from sharing a home with a pet? As with most questions, the answer is: “It depends”.

There are many different domesticated animals that fit neatly within the pet category but since dogs and cats seem to whip up the most frenzy, let’s use them for this example. For every person who loves dogs or cats (myself included), there is someone who purchased in a community with a prohibition against pets either due to that person’s fears relating to dogs or cats, allergies or a general aversion to barking and potentially stepping in a doggie surprise. Those individuals can become just as depressed with a sudden influx of four-footed residents into the community as the people wielding the prescriptions to bring them in. Several years ago, an owner in a high-rise condominium threatened to sue the board if it did not strictly enforce the community’s pet restrictions. It turns out that this owner had been bitten by a Chow several years before moving into the building and the sight of any dog caused her anxiety. The board explained that the dogs she was seeing were service animals and not simply pets but this owner wasn’t buying that argument. Whose rights are more worthy of protection at that point?

As with most issues, it is the few that abuse the system that make it difficult for those who truly are deserving of protection. There are studies that show that dogs alleviate depression and studies that show they cause it. However, if fur is what you need, perhaps a small breed dog can fulfill that purpose as opposed to a St. Bernard? Having an animal in a community that otherwise doesn’t permit them should bring with it a sense of responsibility to minimize the disruption that animal might cause. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and the resentment springs from there.

Some years back, a husband and wife came to me with the husband explaining in great detail his wife’s need for an emotional support dog. I represented the couple against their condominium association and won. The association agreed to allow the dog and waived all fines previously levied. A few weeks after that win, the husband called me again. Apparently his wife’s condition was acting up again and they had now moved a new puppy into their apartment in addition to the other dog they had brought in. He wanted to know what needed to be done and I told him to call someone else. I have no doubt that the shenanigans that couple pulled set back others in their community who had a real need of a service animal.

This work by Donna DiMaggio Berger, Esq. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Generic License.

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