Not a week goes by that I am not contacted by an association asking about its rights and responsibilities when presented with a request from an owner or other resident for a service animal. In communities without pet restrictions this is not a huge issue. However, for those communities that have rigorously enforced reasonable pet restrictions for years and sometimes decades, these kinds of requests present a real dilemma.
If an owner or resident has a disability that impairs his or her quality of life and the presence of a service animal can improve his or her quality of life then the board must grant that owner or resident a reasonable accommodation and allow the animal. Of course, some disabilities such as vision, hearing or mobility impairment are easily verified and the animals being requested have specialized training to assist with those issues. The problem arises with the less clear cut issue of mental disabilities such as depression.
The first step with any prescription pet request is to first verify that the person requesting the animal has a disability. The second step is to verify that the animal being requested can actually assist the person with his or her particular disability. The final step is to determine whether or not the accommodation being requested is reasonable.
The law unfortunately does not require a psychiatrist or other licensed mental health therapist to write the prescription for the service animal in the case of a depressed individual. Any "licensed medical professional" will do. Unfortunately, individuals intent on getting a pet regardless of the community's rules can now easily print out a "prescription" off some internet sites. If you feel that the professional submitting the prescription does not have the credentials or training to write such a prescription I urge you to speak with your association attorney.
In addition, a prescription for a service animal for depression should be allowed only after other therapies such as medication and counseling have been tried and not rendered positive results. Lastly, the accommodation must be reasonable. If it is determined that a dog will alleviate the depression, perhaps a 5 pound Yorkie will do just as well as a massive St. Bernard.
Depression is a very real ailment that afflicts millions of people. There are times that a pet is the real solution for some of these sufferers. However, it is also important to remember that many people bought homes in pet restricted communities for the very reason that they are afraid of living in close proximity to these animals. One person's cure can quickly become another's ailment!
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