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

    • Mike

      As a person with Major Depression, let me just start by saying depression
      is a very serious disease, just as cancer or coronary disease, the only problem
      is there’s no medical test to clearly state you have it. The general perception
      of it is “Oh, he’s just feeling a little blue…”, and I understand that, I
      would have said the same thing – until I was stricken with it. Depression robs
      you of everything in life you took for granted – being able to get out of bed,
      taking out the trash, talking to your wife, going out with friends, etc… and
      the list goes on and on. All the things you used to do in life now take 100x the
      effort and energy to do. The Rosewood board says Grad was “happy as a lark” and
      “friendly and gregarious”, let me tell you as a person who has been in her
      shoes, it’s all an act in an attempt to hide from people that you are in the
      lowest of the low places that anyone can even conceive to be in in life. For me
      to go out in public and put on a smile for people takes more energy than
      chopping down a tree. If Grad had cancer and her doctors said a dog may help
      keep her spirits up and may aid in helping her through her treatment and
      recovery, would Rosewood have still disallowed the dog? I don’t think so. My
      point is Depression is real and needs to start being accepted and treated as
      such by the general public.

    • angiem3

      I FIRMLY disagree with the verdict! She was in a no-dog
      building and she should have, at that time, done what she ultimately did do:
      MOVE! She had violated all the other tenants’ rights, those who wanted to live
      in a community with NO dogs. Their rights were violated, not hers. I cannot
      believe that this verdict was rendered in this case!!! I, too, do not believe
      her “disability” was so debilitating that she needed to have a
      dog in that building, especially. Most seniors have similar problems
      with depression in many forms, but they do not need or ask for a dog.

      I was
      FUMING when I read this verdict!. This woman does NOT deserve the monetary
      awards she received. What makes it worse is that she did move and got her dog
      and that’s, again, what she should have done in the first place.

      I hope
      I never have to go before the MORON
      of a judge who favored this woman and completely disregarded the rights of the
      tenants who do not want to live with dogs.

      I am one of them. I do NOT want to live with dogs or smokers.

      What this imbecile of a judge may not realize is that there
      are zillions of apartment complexes that allow dogs and smokers, but in this
      entire country there are very few complexes who have no pet and no smoking
      policies for the rest of us. We have to suffer with smokers and dog owners… not
      picking up their poop and affecting our air with their disgusting smoke!

      What choices do we have? This SELFISH, SELF-FOCUSED, insane
      woman and her equally inconsiderate laywer are of the types that make living in
      this world a real struggle for those of us who do not want to live with animals
      or cigarette smoke.

      I wish they were made to give this money back… she does NOT
      deserve it!

    • 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.