Condo Owner in Dog Fight to Keep 'Prescription Pet'

Condo owners are legally entitled to the same pet allowances as other residents in need: There are guide dogs for the blind and alert dogs for the hard-of-hearing. Their owners are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act when it comes to keeping the animals at home in a building that might otherwise have a no pets allowed policy. However, prescription pets that fall under the "emotional service animal" category are, well, a different breed, as the owner isn't protected under the ADA, but maybe they could be under the Fair Housing Act, as one Florida condo owner is learning the hard way.

Phyllis Schleifer, 68, pictured left, was prescribed a dog by her doctors. The three-pound chihuahua, named Sweetie, is not there to be her eyes or ears, but is to help keep the "fragile and lonely" woman company, as she suffers from "severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder" after a car accident and the death of her husband of 42 years.

However, her Deerfield Beach, Fla., condo association said, it doesn't care what the reason is, the rules are the rules and the dog isn't allowed under its "no walking pets" rule. Especially since it hasn't received proof that Sweetie is really a service dog.

Now civil rights commissioners for the Broward County government decided Tuesday it will sue Schleifer's Ventnor "H" Condo Association on her behalf to help her keep her emotional support dog, her attorney told AOL Real Estate.

"The Fair Housing Act says you can't discriminate against someone for disabilities," said attorney Peter Wallis of Wallis & Wallis, P.A. "So we filed a case with the county and they came to the conclusion that there was reasonable cause that her rights were violated under the Fair Housing Act."

Schleifer told the Sun-Sentinel that her neighbors have treated her horribly because of her request for a pet waiver. She alleges that someone pushed her and another in an elevator used the "F-word."

The association even posted a notice alerting residents that Schleifer had a dog, and said her dog barked and disturbed neighbors. It reminded residents that dogs were not allowed and that the condo "sought legal representation'' to fight her and that if a lawsuit were necessary, "we will spend our association's money (all owners money)'' on the suit, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

"Broward County found there was a humiliating aspect to the notice," Wallis said during our phone interview. "You have to limit how you pick someone out of a crowd. You can't just pick someone out for humiliation, and that's how she felt. 'Lets make her feel terrible about herself.'"

Wallis, who specializes as a condominium and homeowner association attorney, says that for the county to take this case on, it could help other homeowners under association rules as well. He says the lawsuit is expected to be filed in Federal court by or before June.

He adds that conciliation efforts were offered to the association, but that it did not respond. Wallis still hopes that the case may settle without a court hearing. Either way, Schleifer will be seeking damages in addition to being allowed to stay with her pooch.

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Sheree R. Curry
, who has owned three homes and once had a pet bird keep her company, is a three-time award-winning journalist who has covered real estate for six years. During her 20-year career, her articles have appeared regularly in the
Wall Street Journal, TV Week, and Fortune. She's been writing for AOL Real Estate since 2009 from a Minneapolis-area rental. She seeks a book publisher -- or at least a lender who'll give a reasonable mortgage rate to a self-employed mom.

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There are plenty of places to rent for people with pets. She should go there. Why force your pet on everybody else ?. I do not want to hear a dog barking and i do not want to step in poop outside my condo !!!

April 12 2011 at 6:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bine's comment

So, what you are suggesting is that this very ill fragile woman should have to move? Do you really think she is mentally and physically up to it? Do you think if you suddenly became blind and needed a service dog you should have to sell your home, move your things, and move away from your friends and doctors?
Does this sound right now? How very shallow a person you are.

April 12 2011 at 8:26 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

One of the very reasons not to buy or move into any where there is any type of association. Unless of course you have no mind of your own and need them to think for you.

April 12 2011 at 12:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
test test

Wny can't she move to a place that allows dogs again?

This is America. Land of opportunity. I'm sure there are places that allow dogs that she could live at.

If she needs the dog for her sanity, it is her responsibility to live in a place that allows dogs.

April 12 2011 at 12:07 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to test test's comment

Seriously!! I mean how dare she have a disability, doesn't she know that it's her responsibility to live with that and not mine?! If she were blind I'd just tell her she should have had the sense to be BORN WITH SIGHT just like NORMAL people, duh! It's so crazy, I can't believe she'd seek out and get help for a disability and then EXPECT to be able to use that help, how classless and silly of her! I for one blame her husband for dying in that car accident, clearly this is his fault.

April 12 2011 at 12:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Yes, America is the land of opportunity. That includes the opportunity for a disabled person to live in the same place as an able one. It is your responsibility to treat the disabled with the same respect that you wish to be treated. It is not her responsibility to have to move becasue she became sick and needs a service animal. God help you if you ever become sick yourself and your neighbors expect you to move becasue of it.

April 12 2011 at 8:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I was attacked by a dog (german shepherd for those who are interested) when I was 7 years old. It left me with scars that you can see, and some that you can't. I am terrified by dogs of any size and would never live somewhere that allowed dogs. Imagine if this woman moved into the condo next to me. I would be forced to endure barking, which is a HUGE anxiety causer for me. I hear dogs barking and have a panic attack. I would be forced to either find out what her schedule is so that if I leave my condo I won't have to run into the woman's dog. Or be forced to not leave my condo for fear of being exposed to the dog.
I actually lived in a no pets/kids condo on the beach. Two days after I signed papers and moved into the place I found out that the person above me AND to one side of me owned dogs. I asked the HOA what was going on with the people allowed to have dogs in this no dogs allowed building and was told they would look into it. When after 3 weeks, nothing had been done to remove the dogs or fine the owners, I contacted a lawyer to get out of my contract so that I could move somewhere that really was dog free. The condo place refused to let me out of the contract and said that they would remove any dogs known to live on the property and fine the owners of said dogs. My lawyer had to threaten to sue for them to let me out of the contract. I now live in a lovely ocean front DOG FREE condo. For those interested, I have been diagnosed with PTSD and depression. I'm living with the scars and the terror that comes with seeing dogs.
If you live in a place that specifically says no dogs allowed, what makes this woman think her rights supercede mine? Am I less deserving of a peaceful existance? Does her desire to own a dog while living in a place that she knows doesn't allow one, more important than my need to live in a place without dogs? After choosing to live somewhere that doesn't allow pets? She should move somewhere that DOES allow pets and stop terrorizing her neighbors. There are lots of reasons why people would move to a dog free place.

April 12 2011 at 11:35 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to OnceBittenTwiceShy's comment

You both have equal rights to be accomodated in your disability. You were in the right to be asked to be released from your contract. In this situation, it would take a judge to decide. Perhaps the person who lived their first should be allowed to stay or the person who is the most able bodied should be asked to move. No place to live can exclude a service animal, it's against the law. I am sorry you were attacked by a dog and suffer from scars and phobia's. I also have PTSD due to rape and childhood sexual abuse. Unfortunately I cannot expect that no men of any kind live near me. I can only hope that my neighbors aren't those kind of men. Life is not fair, we both know that. All we can do is try to make it as fair as possible for others by our own actions.

April 12 2011 at 8:38 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Spawn of Santa

If the doctors prescribed the dog as it said, then this animal IS a service animal. Why the condo assoc. can't accept that is beyond me. Are any of THEM doctors? It doesn't say. Are any of them qualified to make a medical diagnosis? It doesn't say. Sounds like kvetching on their part.

April 12 2011 at 9:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Where does the author get the idea that mental disabilities aren't covered by the ADA? The ADA doesn't single out specific medical conditions as being disabling or not. The ADA relies on what IMPACT the disability has on a person's activities of daily living. A person with severe depression and PTSD would almost certainly be protected by the ADA. As such they would have to be allowed to have a service animal. Also the article suggests that mental illness is not as real as physical illness. Calling the service animal an "emotional" service animal suggests that PTSD or Depression is as simple as just having bad feelings. There are real PHYSICAL changes in the brains of people with mental health problems. The brain is a organ of the body like your liver or your pancreas. Please be more careful with the information you publish. People read what you write and assume you know what you are talking about.

April 12 2011 at 4:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Holly's comment

Actually according to the ADA a service animal is an animal that performs a service that the owner cannot otherwise do, for instance hearing the sound of a car honking when crossing the street if you're deaf, seeing eye dogs, and animals that pull wheelchairs (there are horses that are considered service animals too). It does not cover animals that provide emotional security, that's a pet.

April 12 2011 at 12:41 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

My issue is that they article did not explain the difference between a emotional support animal and a psychiatric service animal. I was not saying the dog she has IS a psychiatric service animal, just that she would be entitled to one. See below:
Some folks confuse Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) with Psychiatric Service Animals (PSAs). They think that "training" a dog to kiss on command or jump in their lap, or be hugged is a task qualifying the animal as a service animal. Real tasks for PSDs (psychiatric service dogs) include counterbalance/bracing for a handler dizzy from medication, waking the handler on the sound of an alarm when the handler is heavily medicated and sleeps through alarms, doing room searches or turning on lights for persons with PTSD, blocking persons in dissociative episodes from wandering into danger (i.e. traffic), leading a disoriented handler to a designated person or place, and so on.

If you look at the tasks just described (and those listed below), you will see that PSD tasks are actually very similar to tasks for persons with other disabilities. Guiding to a place and blocking from danger are common Guide Dog tasks. Signaling for an alarm is a common hearing dog task. Balancing/bracing and turning on lights are common Mobility Dog tasks. That's because they are real service dog tasks for persons whose disability happens to be due to mental illness.

"I can't bend over to pick up dropped items like housekeys because my medication makes me so dizzy I fall down when I try. My dog was trained to pick up dropped items so I could get the things I needed without injuring myself in the process."

"I become confused and disoriented when I dissociate. I wander off and become lost and cannot find my way back home. My dog was trained to a) stop me from wandering by planting me someplace until the episode passed, or b) guide me home on command."

"I wander into traffic when I am disoriented. I fear becoming 'road pizza.' My dog was trained to block me from stepping in front of moving cars, or to block me automatically at each intersection."

"I pick at my skin and pull out my hair without noticing that I am doing it because of OCD. I do it to the point that I injure myself and bleed. My dog was trained to interrupt and redirect my picking behavior toward a less harmful behavior like grooming my dog."

"When I miss my medication I become violently ill. So ill that I cannot even rise to a seated position. I vomit uncontrollably. My dog was trained to bring me my medication and a juice box so I could take it even when I am in this condition. She was also trained to clear the vomit out of my airway so I don't choke, even if I pass out."

April 12 2011 at 7:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The greatest gifts of a civilized democracy is the ability of like minded people to live comfortably in thier home. The greatest gifts of radicals is nothing is illegal, except rules against their entitlement mentality. Senior's have banned together to make adult only communities. As ALL homes plummet in values, thus far theirs have maintained value.

Obama and the DNC has created the highest victim class in all recorded history. The middle class saw more loses, than the great depression. The elderly lost home value, and so many millions lost their jobs. Like the strikeing union teachers that recieved doctor's notes for public striking, the courts are quickly adapting.

A seeing eye dogs helps the blind function, like sighted people. This science is proven. A hearing dog helps the deaf function. This too is proven Science. I understand her emotional frailty, but sadly I am far more concerned with that young child with extreme dog allergies. Their are no medications for blindness, deafness, or being crippled. Their are so many outreach groups for being lonely.

Everyday of my life I meet special progressives demanding, SNIFF their civil rights must supersede everyone else's right, for them to feel whole as a person. My personal responses are to always demand a $100,000 minimum upfront bond to cover all potential damages, and or lost of property values. I have yet to lose one case before the court. If they can afford to feed a pet, license it, and pay for it's proper medical, they can afford that bond, and added charges, to own a pet.

I have learned long ago, their are but two types of people in a civilized society. Those that can smell their own feces, and those that insist their feces never stink. Good neighbors are worth their weight in gold. Deadbeats and the entitlement crowd, always come free of charge.

April 12 2011 at 12:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to jagcapt007's comment

Which is it?
"Senior's have banned together to make adult only communities. As ALL homes plummet in values, thus far theirs have maintained value."

"The elderly lost home value,"

April 12 2011 at 9:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

She is not simply lonely. She has PTSD. PTSD causes real changes in the brain such as added stress hormone receptors and changes in hormones such as excess cortisol and low levels of serotinin and dopamine. PTSD is also not curable. You think you understand her emotional frailty but you don't. You seem to have some subconcious bigotry toward mental illness. You are not alone, most people do.
My nephew has autism but since he isn't in a wheechair his mom gets dirty looks for his behavior. I get treated much better on days I need to use my cane than days that I don't. Try it and see for yourself. Service dogs do help people with PTSD function, Get used to the fact you will be seeing more and more services dogs as veterans retuen from Iraq and Afghanistan. PTSD is real.

April 12 2011 at 8:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Can't stand people/places that won't allow the elderly to keep a pet. How cruel when that is the only thing some of these people have left in the world. It gives them a reason to get up and get moving. Everyone will get old someday (if they are lucky) and I wonder then if they will remember their"rules are rules" comments when they are left all alone. People with pets live longer - check the statistics!

April 11 2011 at 10:33 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

The woman knew the rules when she moved to THAT Condo. She needs to find a Condo that DOES allow pets. If she is allowed to keep HER pet because of emotional issues, it opens up a huge Pandora's Box for some one else to find a loophole excuse. A lot of people are lonely and it's unfortunate. BUT the majority of people should not have their rights abridged because of ONE person's unfortunate emotional issues. She needs to learn to deal with her problems by spending time with family or friends or going to a Senior Center.

April 11 2011 at 10:17 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dolfanman93's comment

Finally, a comment that made sense. Don't want to sound harsh or cruel, but we all have our bad times, some more than others, but we we cannot expect the world to cater to our needs and ignore the rest of the world. I live in a condo that has several disabled people (the building is extremely accessible) and my heart went out for them, but when one gentleman, who insisted on being independent, set fire to the unit below me (and had oxygen tanks in his apt.) I had to change that thinking quickly! He was safe, but he was infringiing on the safety and the lifestyles and life of others.

April 13 2011 at 1:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hi Art & Nan

I hope she wins her case! I'm sick of people in authority denying a homeowner (or even a renter) the right to animal companionship!

April 11 2011 at 9:52 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply