Deerfield dog owner trumps ‘no-pet’ rule

as a matter of medical necessity


Article Courtesy of  The Sun Sentinel

By Susannah Bryan
Published April 4, 2005


DEERFIELD BEACH -- After more than a year of wrangling, Reuben Wactlar is finally free to keep one of his most precious possessions -- a doe-eyed Pomeranian named Trixie.

"It really got to me a little bit," Wactlar, 83, said of the lengthy brouhaha over Trixie. "Here they were trying to take away my lifelong friend and companion."
Wactlar's troubles began in December 2003, when he received a stern notice from his homeowners association ordering him to get rid of Trixie to comply with the community's no-pet policy.

In the 27 years Wactlar has lived in the Meadows of Crystal Lake, he has owned three dogs, all named Trixie because of his failing memory, he said. Wactlar said he never had any trouble until a year ago, when the association decided to enforce its no-pet rule.

But recently, Wactlar won permission from the association to keep his tiny companion as an "emotional support" animal.

Board members had a change of heart soon after Wactlar filed a harassment and discrimination complaint in November with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which referred the case to the Broward County Office of Equal Opportunity Civil Rights Division.

While the association agreed to let Wactlar keep his dog, the pet ban remains in effect for other residents in this retirement community of 350 well-manicured homes east of Military Trail and north of Sample Road.

"We're giving him an accommodation because he does have a disability," said Richard Collura, the newly elected president of the association. "It's the law."

Wactlar lost the use of his legs years ago after a series of strokes. A cancer survivor, he also suffers from heart problems, diabetes and a history of depression. But three times a day, he takes Trixie to a nearby park on his motorized scooter.

Wactlar trumped the no-pet rule with a so-called "prescription pet" defense, in which his doctor wrote a letter saying he needs a pet to combat depression. Other residents were not so fortunate.

Wactlar was among five residents to receive the "no pet" warning in December 2003. All were told they faced daily fines.

Two residents got rid of their dogs. One woman, who has since died, refused to part with her Shih Tzu and sold her home. One man, a bird owner, got lucky when the association changed its rules in January to allow birds and fish.

In his complaint to HUD, Wactlar said he was harassed several times when a board member of the association taunted him about getting rid of Trixie. "I felt anxious and fearful of losing Trixie -- my heart was breaking," Wactlar wrote.

Trixie joined the Wactlar home more than three years ago, when Wactlar's wife, Alice, bought the pup after their 12-year-old Pomeranian died.

Neighbor Marianne Petersson said she remembers Wactlar being severely depressed four years ago when he was "between dogs."

"Trixie is his life," she said. "Little Trixie gives him a reason to live."