Co-op and condo boards have long been frustrated by the end-run many residents have made around their strict no-pet policies. Claiming that they need “an emotional support” dog to calm their anxious nerves, these residents provide a doctor’s note supporting the necessity of the dog. Boards that object are labeled callous – and, more importantly, they must deal with the specter of the city’s Human Rights Commission (HRC), which can force a building to accept the pet or face penalties. One recent court case ended with a recommendation that the HRC fine the building’s management $95,000.
It’s not that all boards are callous, insists attorney Stuart Saft, a partner at Holland & Knight, who has no beef with legitimate requests for support pets. It’s just that such websites as the United States Dog Registry make one wonder just how legitimate some of those requests actually are. The site features all the info a would-be dog owner needs. First, there’s a list of types. “Service” dogs help with performing a function for someone limited by a disability, such as blindness; “emotional support” dogs comfort individuals with emotional or psychological conditions; and “therapy dogs” soothe troubled individuals in hospitals, nursing homes, or other facilities. The site also sums up key legal points; allows a person to register a dog; provides a certificate of registration, an ID card with the dog’s photo, and a service/emotional support/therapy dog tag. There’s even a letter for a doctor to sign:
To whom it may concern:
(Your name) is a patient who has been under my care since (when you began seeing the doctor). I have firsthand knowledge of (your first name)’s disability and the functional limitations caused by the disability. Due to (his/her) disability, I am prescribing an emotional support dog to assist with limitations caused by (symptoms of disability experienced, such as stress or anxiety). I will be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding my recommendation that (your name) have an emotional support dog.
Boards have no way of knowing if such letters are legit, and a legal challenge may be the only way to bite back. Saft hopes to challenge the rule in court one day, noting: “I need to find a co-op that’s willing to file a lawsuit over this. It’s a bad situation.”