Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs

The title of this article is Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs.  Of course many of you know that I am a Florida Attorney that represents condo owners and homeowners that have disputes with their associations.   I handle all types of cases including condo pet restrictions, mold and water damage cases and cases dealing with 55 and over communities.  You may also know that my main office is in Hollywood Florida near Fort Lauderdale, Miami, West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Sunny Isles and Aventura, and that I have helped individuals all over Florida – but enough of that.

Happy New Year to everyone!

Jimmy

It’s hard to believe that it is January  2012!   My 14 year old son keeps reminding me of the Inca prophecy for 2012.  I hope he’s wrong.  Just shopping for the holidays in this tough economy seemed like a doomsday in and of itself.  Nevertheless, I hope you all were able to enjoy some time off from work and spend it with family and good friends.  Looking back, I can’t help but think about all the trips I had to make to the mall and local retail stores to complete the holiday shopping for my three boys.  I know my sons were extremely happy with their gifts this year.   I am sure they know how much thought was put into each gift and how much time was spent shopping,  purchasing and wrapping them so they could be surprised on the holidays.  Of course they thanked me and hugged me dearly when each gift was unwrapped.   I am also grateful for all the quality time we got to spend together playing monopoly, poker, lighting fireworks and watching football.  Yet, despite all of this, each morning when I leave for work and each night when I return they are not the ones greeting me with unconditional love (don’t get me wrong- I know they love me).   Instead, it is my two Dalmatians Jimmy and Lucy ( Jimmy and I have a special bond and when I am home he never leaves my side).

I didn’t buy Jimmy and Lucy any expensive presents for the holidays or take them to fancy restaurants.  Yet each morning when I  get dressed, Jimmy comes in and sits down and starts to smile at me (yes a dog can smile).   If I don’t pet him he lifts  his paw and gently pats me on the leg or arm.   If I stop he reminds me with a nudge from his paw.   This goes on for a few minutes and I forget all about the looming pressures of the day ahead.   When I leave he sits by the door and looks at me with a sideways glance letting me know that he will be there when I get home.

When I come home at night the issues of the day still weigh heavy on my mind and the problems of my many clients run  through my head over and over.   Although my 3 sons are home they don’t usually come over and greet me (and I don’t fault them for this).    My wife usually says hello or relates to me some torment one of my sons recently inflicted on the other.   Jimmy and Lucy always come running over with their tails wagging to let me know how happy they are that I am home.   My wife usually leaves my mail out for me on the kitchen counter and as I go through it the ritual begins.   Jimmy puts his paws up on the counter and nudges his head under my arm as I read my mail.   If I ignore him he rubs his head along my ribs forcing me to hug him.   Then he nudges closer and smiles at me with his dog smile.    Lucy now comes over and puts her paws up on the counter and tries to get close to me.   Jimmy will actually slide away from me in order to push Lucy away so only he can have my attention.   All Lucy wants is to get close enough to lick my face a couple of times and then she will leave.   During this ritual Jimmy never stops smiling at me.  Even though several minutes have gone by and I still have not had a chance to read my mail I have totally put the day’s problems behind me.

If you are not a dog lover you may not think much of this interaction.   The point is that Jimmy and Lucy, by their very nature help relieve the stress and anxiety that sometimes accompanies being a Trial Attorney.  Of course I can function without Jimmy and Lucy.   Unfortunately, there are many people  dealing with emotional ailments such as depression, panic disorder and anxiety attacks that are affected by the stress of daily living to such a degree that they can’t eat or sleep or care for themselves.   For these people, having an emotional support animal teaches them to stay in control because someone else is depending on them.   Taking care of an animal requires people with an emotional disability to also take care of themselves because of the responsibility they have for the animal.   Additionally, many people with emotional disabilities are often unable to calm themselves during times of increased stress.   An emotional support animal allows them to transfer their coping mechanisms to the animal.   By petting and reassuring the animal owners are actually reassuring themselves and thereby reducing the effects of the stress or problem at hand.

We have always known that dogs communicate with body language and noises.  A recent study published in the journal Current Biology now suggests:

“Increasing evidence supports the notion that humans and dogs share some social skills, with dogs’ social-cognitive functioning resembling that of a 6-month to 2-year-old child in many respects,” said József Topál of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. “

The findings might help to explain why so many dog owners treat them like their children; dogs’ ability to receive human communication is very similar to the receptivity of very young children, the researchers say.   Essentially, dogs are able to read our expression and demeanor.  When our faces show panic or anxiety dogs read that and react to their owner’s  which is one of the reasons that they are instinctively able to lend emotional support to owners with emotional disabilities.  While our dogs may not know what we are thinking they certainly may know what we are feeling.

Many Condominium and Homeowner Associations that have strict Pet Restrictions will still allow an individual with a disability to live with an emotional support animal or service dog.  These Associations are not always educated on the laws that pertain to emotional support animals.  They will often demand evidence that the animal has received specialized training when they are evaluating a resident’s request for a special accommodation.  Emotional support animals are not required to have specialized training.

“Emotional support animals by their very nature, and without training, may relieve depression and anxiety, and/or help reduce stress-induced pain in persons with certain medical conditions affected by stress.” See, Overlook Mutual Homes v. Spencer,  2009 WL 3486364 (S.D. Ohio 2009).

I have a client that experiences panic attacks that are so severe she loses track of time and everything else around her.  Her emotional support dog knows (without any formal training) to come over to her and rub against her during these severe panic attacks.  The dog keeps rubbing up against her until she shifts her attention to soothing the dog which in turn allows her to forget about her panic and return to a more normal state.   There are many Service Dogs that alert their owner when they are about to have a seizure or help people that have mobility problems and need assistance.   I  recently read a CBC News Report about a young girl with Autism.   Her Service Dog “Levi”  allows her to participate in  activities in a way that would otherwise be challenging for her due to her Autism.   Unfortunately, she was told to leave her local discount clothing store due to their lack of knowledge as to service animals.  The  store later apologized and gave little Emily a gift card to use.  Upon returning to the store to use the gift card she was again informed that she could not come into the store with Levi despite the fact that he had a harness identifying him as a Service Animal.

I have many clients that have experienced threats and intimidation from their neighbors and board members because they have requested a reasonable accommodation for their emotional support animal.  The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act protect the right of people with disabilities to keep emotional support animals, even when there is a stated  policy explicitly prohibiting  pets.

The law is clear that discrimination includes  a refusal to make a reasonable accommodation to rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to use and enjoy the dwelling. See, FHAA, 42 U.S.C. §3604(f)(3)(B).   Under the Fair Housing Act it is unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of any right granted or protected by these sections. While  there will always be some people who try to abuse any system of rules,  the majority of cases I have seen involving emotional support animals are legitimate claims.  These animals are truly vital components to the daily lives of people living with disabilities.   If you happen to see your neighbor walking their dog at your condominium don’t stare them down or make rude gestures.   You might be serving your community better by saying hello and going about your business.   Remember that life is too precious and short to waste it by spreading hate.

If you or somebody you love has a service animal or emotional support animal and your Condo Association or Homeowner Association has not made reasonable accommodations for you or worse, is trying to enforce Pet Restrictions that don’t apply to your animal,  you need to contact us to discuss your rights.  In some cases you could be entitled to damages, as well as, reimbursement of your Attorney’s Fees and expenses.

The Law Offices of Herb M. Milgrim, P.A. is a Florida Law Firm,  with offices near Fort Lauderdale and Miami,  that represents Condo Owners, Homeowners and Cooperative Owners that have disputes or are contemplating Litigation or a Lawsuit against their Association.  Don’t try to deal with the matter on your own.  Seek out legal advice from an experienced  Attorney that focuses on helping condo owners. Your Association keeps expensive Florida Law Firms on Retainer so they can fight and delay your claim and they pay these expensive Law Firms with your money.  Call us now (954-966-3909) and find out  if you have a case.

 

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