The lowdown on Condos, Service Dogs & Therapy Dogs.
Doggie waste bag stands, mobile pet grooming and walkers with 10 dogs on leashes are a frequent sight these days. It seems that more and more people are turning to pets for companionship. Canada has 7.5 million homes that have pets. Canadian Pet Market Outlook 2014 stated that Canada is home to approximately 5.9 million dogs and 7.9 million cats. It’s no surprise then, that there seems to be more and more condos supporting this lifestyle and adopting a pet-friendly attitude and environment.
It’s often only when there’s been a fair amount of pet related negligence and abuse by residents that a building decides to make the bold move to go “pet-free” in its entirety, allowing only the existing pets to be grandfathered into acceptance.
When people are selecting a new condo, one of the top criteria they should investigate is pets. The bylaws, declaration and rules should all be checked on what regulations and restrictions are in place.
But as with most things in life, there are no guarantees and rules are sometimes made to be broken. Such is the case in pet regulated condominiums living these days, as reinforced at the ACMO conference last week. There’s a new trend of people claiming that they have a disability and that their pet is a service or therapy pet, required to stay and be exempt from the condo rules.
Let’s start by first, understanding the differences between service and therapy dogs.
Servicedog.ca explains the difference by stating that “Service dogs are trained to provide a service directly to their disabled handler, while a therapy dog is trained to provide a service to others working for a handler who may not have a disability at all.”
While the most frequent service dog people tend to think of are guide dogs for the visually impaired, there are many other ways they assist people, such as some of the following.
- Alerting prior to a seizure
- Alerting to changes in glucose levels
- Open/close doors, drawers and refrigerators
- Pick up dropped items
- Assist with mobility issues
- Mitigate the challenges of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
- Assist the hearing impaired
Therapy dogs on the other hand, are trained to provide service and comfort to people. We often think of hospitals, nursing homes, schools and children with learning disabilities when we think of them. They come in all shapes and sizes with one critical thing in common… their friendly disposition and their gentle demeanor (even in frightening situations.)
And perhaps the most notable difference when it comes to this topic is that service and therapy dogs do NOT share the same privileges when it comes to public access.
The Condo Act states that boards are able to pass rules regarding the property as long as they are reasonable and don’t interfere with the Ontario Human Rights Code. A ‘no pet’ rule, within the Condo Corporations right to implement. What’s not allowed however, is to ban service dogs. A lot of people assume that it’s also not permitted to force people to “prove” the validity of their service dogs. It is. Condo Corporations can request medical information and documentation from residents in order to substantiate the disability, in order to allow their pet to stay.
Such was the case in July 2014 in a Barrie Condominium that had a pet restriction stipulating that dogs and cats be less than 25 pounds. A common law couple was aware of this rule as existing residents and therefore realized they were in breach when adding their 40 pound dog to their family.
After notice from the management to remove her dog, the resident submitted a doctor’s letter that the dog was a service and therapy pet relieving her from past stress and abuse. She requested a duty of accommodation under the Ontario Human Rights code. As mentioned, as a norm, human rights code trumps condo rules. The small problem being however, that her doctor’s letter was too vague. The case resulted in court and the judge ruled in the condo corporations favour.
Even if the resident did have a clearly supported concern requiring a service dog – she would be required to have one less than their 25 pound requirement. Additionally, at the moment, stress is not a recognizable disability under the human rights code. Finally, the opportunity for the resident to bring forward more detailed and objective information about her medical condition, was refused. End result, the dog had to go. But that’s not all. The condo Corp received $47,000 which could be collected via a lien against the residents unit.
There are take aways for both sides here.
Condo Corps should realize that a blanket ‘No Pets’ rule is not only unreasonable, but also unenforceable. Not only for the reason that it’s merely too vague, but it also forces people to sneak around as if feeling they’re breaking the condo law. Not the best environment for building community.
Make the criteria for any restrictions reasonable. Sometimes weight isn’t the only consideration. My 60 pound dog was permitted in our condo, as the restriction was “behaviour based” rather than determined by size. And from my own personal experience, it was always the smaller, more “talkative” dogs that created the nuisance behaviour. The sentiment was reassuringly echoed by the concierge.
As a resident, remember that in a pet restriction environment, most things are studied on a case by case basis. The Condo Corp may want to ensure that the disability is ongoing and may request annual supporting documention.
Do your due diligence BEFORE deciding on where to live.
And finally, if a condo starts off with an open pet policy – make sure to respect the existing rules so that it stays that way – sadly, it’s often the poor behaviour of owners (not pets) that results in a reversal of allowances for them.
Image Source: My own