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 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 

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

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  • Your Comments

    • Anonymous

      It’s a common thing to think that just because an illness is mental, it doesn’t exist. Depression is a real disability, and yes, she deserved to have her needs attended to. If others had a problem with the dog, solutions could be taken.

    • Deborah Webb

      Hey for all those claiming they have allergies or what about the rights of people with allergies, POODLES ARE HYPO-ALLERGENIC! That is what she had-a poodle!

    • Deborah Webb

      In my opinion, Grad received FAR below the amount she should have received for the trouble. Bigotry and ignorance should be fined in the MILLIONS, not a few thousand. The defendants got off easily. Grad actually needed a REAL junkyard dog of an attorney to get what should have gone to her, and maybe, it would have served as a message to those who own apartments and refuse to acknowledge fair housing laws and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

    • Deborah Webb

      Grad deserved compensation. As a disability civil rights advocate, Grad was discriminated against. Mental illness ABSOLUTELY IS a disability and fulfills ALL of the definitions of disability. Anyone who would disagree with the verdict is ignorant and/or bigoted.

    • Bevy

      I disagreed with all this. #1. she moved to a place that accommodated her need for a pet and it was only a few miles away. #2. she used OUR tax dollars to bring a frivolous suit. #3. she did not LET IT GO!
      As for being mentally ill – it seems that the stress of the court case would’ve sent her over the edge, but I guess the high priced HUD and other government lawyers helped her with that. (another our tax dollars at work)
      I have no respect for people that bring a court case that they’ve ALREADY solved.
      But as the article says she got $14,209 and additional punitive damages and I’m sure when you’re on a fixed income it’s a GREAT way to make money.
      I can agree with the aptmt. complex and it’s rule prohibiting pets.
      Too bad the judge was such an IDIOT!

      • Deborah Webb

        Too bad the judge was such an IDIOT! Look in the mirror. You will see an idiot due to bigotry and ignorance.