The Case of the Prohibited Pooch

Should a tenant with a disability be allowed to break a ban on animals? You be the judge.

By Vicki Glembocki
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine June 2014

dog illustrationNoma Bar for Reader’s Digest

By November 2000, six months after Joyce Grad had moved into 
Royalwood Cooperative Apartments in Royal Oak, Michigan, she was 
getting anxious about her seasonal 
descent into depression. “It always gets worse in winter,” says the now-64-year-old, who describes her feelings 
at that time as “suicidal.” She adds, “I was watching the leaves fall and thinking, I don’t think I can do this.”

Grad had been living alone on 
Social Security disability for years due to bipolar disorder, causing 
severe depression that prevented her from working. Sometimes it was so bad, she could barely get out of bed. Worried about her inactivity, she 
reasoned, If I had a dog, I would have to go outside for walks. But the co-op board had a no-pet policy.

Grad wrote to the board, asking 
it to waive the policy and allow her 
to have a small dog. Grad stated that 
according to the Fair Housing Act, 
“it is unlawful discrimination to deny a person with a disability ‘a reasonable accommodation of an existing building rule or policy if such accommodation may be necessary to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises.’”

She included letters from her 
psychiatrist and psychologist stating that a dog would help with her 
“debilitating depressive disorder.”

But the board rejected Grad’s 
request.

Two months later, Grad moved 
to an apartment in a building a few miles from Royalwood that allowed pets, and she acquired a ten-pound gray poodle from a family in the neighborhood. Grad named the dog Lady and trained the poodle to coax her out of bed in the morning and 
to take her home if she was out and 
experienced a panic attack.

About ten months after leaving Royalwood, Grad filed a complaint against the apartment complex with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD 
investigated and, in August 2003, filed a civil complaint against 
Royalwood, claiming that it had, 
in fact, discriminated against Grad and violated the Fair Housing Act.

“The legal question was whether the requested accommodation would have lessened the effect 
of the disability,” explains Grad’s 
attorney, Gabrielle Frampton. “Would the dog have helped? 
Or would it have just been a pet?”

Did Royalwood Cooperative 
Apartments discriminate against Joyce Grad by not waiving its no-pet policy? You be the judge.

Next: The Verdict

  • Your Comments

    • Martha

      I agree with the verdict, what we all must understand that as we age we are not always able to secure or establish a relationship with another human being that is unconditional however with a pet you can do that and this helps not only people with disabilities began to get more out of life and give them something to do but this works for the aging also.

    • Eddie Bob

      I believe this is another case of “The Tail Wagging The Dog” The complex owners should have the right to establish their own restrictions (I’m sure the lady read these before moving in) The “restrictions/rules” may be the “very reason” some of the tenants chose to live there, anyway! This seems to me to be a breech of “Owners Rights” If this lady is sitting at a Red Light and her bipolar swing tells her she should go anyway!~ Would a traffic cop violate her rights by writing her a ticket??

    • JoyMotte

      I agree. PTSD and depression are very real and can be disabling. I get tired of people thinking a person is not disabeled if he does not look didabeled. I am one of those. It is very real.

    • el

      I’m thrilled that the first federal verdict was made in favor of someone with depression (or seasonal affective disorder) and panic attacks. The story describes a housing board with the view of many. If someone has an obvious disability like blindness or they’re wheelchair bound people frequently understand that allowances should be made. It’s telling that the letters from the psychiatrist and psychologist were not convincing and I’d like to ask your audience to consider that psychiatric (mental) illness can be very painful. Suicide rates among young people are on the rise and we shouldn’t dismiss depression as a weakness and turn away from these people. I think that when stories like these are told that there is a chance for people to become more educated. All disabilities are not immediately visible.

    • my2cents

      The bond between a pet and their owner is therapeutic and improves the quality of life of both owner and pet. denying Grad’s request shows ignorance, discrimination, and a lack of comprehension of the nature of mental illness. YES compensate.

    • RN

      I wonder if you would say the same negative comments if the woman’s disability was blindness or epilepsy. BTW there is NO “official” service dog registry. In reading the negative comments I do not know if they are truly anti psych dog or anti psychiatric illness.

    • rll

      Of course! The desire of this one woman (who had a choice on where to move) should obliterate the rights of all other tenants already residing in a pet-free apartment complex for various reasons of their own. What a great example being set for our young by our judicial system, which rewards the selfish acts of individuals, at the expense of everyone around them.

    • vsInPA

      As a landlord of 30 years, I disagree with the ruling. First of all, the poodle was picked up in the neighborhood, not a registered service animal. There are anti pet rules for a reason. Most people do not properly maintain their pets, no matter what they tell you. She did the right thing, she moved to a complex that DID allow pets. Case closed. If I was a neighbor of her, and I had moved into a non-pet building expecting no pets, then now my rights are infringed. As a landlord I also know that if one tenant is allowed a pet, then others want one too.

      Also I personally know two people who registered their pets as a service animal so they could take them to hotels with them on vacations. Seems that the process is not that difficult in some states. I know for a fact that these animals were NOT service animals. Its too easy to abuse the system.

    • Amelia Williams Braden

      I would be so lonely and more depressed if it were not for my dog. I have my own home but my husband did not want the dog in the house. I stood my ground and the dog has a bed in my room. Anyone who has experienced depression, anxiety, agoraphobia and or suicidal tendencies has no idea how much the company of something that loves you unconditionally.

    • GGMDaughter

      Never thought I’d be writing to Reader’s Digest, but when I read the story by Vicki Glembocki, “You be the Judge” I just had to do so.
      In 2000, I was diagnosed with severe Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating
      Polyneuropathy. This is an autoimmune disease of the peripheral nervous system.
      It results in the loss of the myelin sheath covering that insulates and protects peripheral nerves. It has caused the loss of feeling on the exterior of my feet, ankles and lower legs. But there is a lot of pain on the inside. For me this is not due to diabetes or MS. Walking is very painful and the sensations are sometimes overwhelming.
      Before and during the process of my diagnoses I worked for a large university. I also drove a Corvette. And, yes, I parked it in a “Handicap Only” parking space for
      which I clearly displayed my “Handicap” hang tag.
      One day a woman approached me and said, “I see you parking that Corvette every day in this Handicap spot, but you don’t look or act like there is any reason. What’s
      wrong with you – a handicapped person can’t drive a Corvette!!” I simply asked her if she would like to trade feet and legs with me as I have no feeling in them. She wanted to know more – and without apologizing – just with a “Hmmph” she walked away.
      A couple years later I hired a young woman who had formerly worked as a
      dispatcher at the campus police department. She told me she could remember
      multiple calls from people reporting a Corvette parked in a Handicap spot. The
      police had become accustomed to this and would simply reply, “Oh, yes, we know who that is and we have verified the disability.
      I also look perfectly fine, but have a very severe handicap. It is easy to read a book if you never open the cover. People should not judge others based solely on what they can see on the outside. If they could feel what I feel every day of my life, I’m sure they would want to scream out in pain, suffer from being clumsy, and always be tired from fighting through another day.