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Condo association denies service dog, suggests "cat companion"

A 55-year-old woman who was approved for Social Security disability benefits after she suffered a brain injury. Her psychologist and social worker agreed that she would benefit from having a trained companion dog as a service animal. However, the board in charge of her condominium association where she has been a long-term resident are questioning whether she is disabled and challenging her right to acquire a service dog.

The condominium association is seeking to prevent the woman from getting a 15-pound King Cavalier King Charles spaniel and suggesting that she acquire a companion cat instead. The association argues that the cat would fulfill the same needs and services as a dog. The case has been in negotiation for over a year and now the disabled resident has filed a civil lawsuit in federal court, seeking a declaratory judgment against the association and the property manager for violating the Fair Housing Act. The lawsuit alleges that the association is in violation for refusing to accommodate her disability.

According to the plaintiff's lawyers, she is indeed handicapped under federal standards and applicable law. By failing to permit her to get a service dog, the association is violating her rights. The association has argued that they are accommodating her disability by allowing her to get a cat instead.

Advocates for the plaintiff argued that the association should not be able to make the decision whether the disabled woman acquires a dog or cat and that the animals have obviously different characteristics. In addition, the medical professionals involved in her case never suggested a cat, but a dog because of their 'unconditional love' and ability to welcome their owner or go on a walk.

Source: ABA Journal, "Federal Court Service Animal Ruling Sought: Can a Companion Cat Fill the Paws of a Companion Dog?" Martha Neil, Sept. 14, 2012

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