Deerfield Beach HOA wants aging couple to give up pet

By Susannah Bryan 
Posted on February 12, 2004 
Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

At 82, Reuben Wactlar has lost many things -- his legs, his memory, his health.

Now he fears he may lose Trixie, a 2-year-old champagne-hued Pomeranian he's had since she was a pup.

His homowners association forbids pets, from cats and dogs to fish and birds and all furry creatures in between. Residents were allowed to have pets when their retirement community was built more than 25 years ago, but prohibited from replacing them after they died.

In December, Wactlar was among five residents to receive a warning from The Meadows of Crystal Lake Homeowners Association in Deerfield Beach saying they would be fined up to $50 a day as of the new year if they did not get rid of
their pets. The fine would be capped at $1,000, as required by state law. Wactlar is contesting the fine.

Wactlar and his wife have turned to Coast to Coast Legal Aid of Broward, hoping the agency can

Best friends
Trixie, a 2-year-old Pomeranian leads the way as Reuben
Wactlar, 82, follows in his motorized cart during an
afternoon at a small park near their Deerfield Beach home.
Now Wactlar’s homeowners association wants him to get
rid of Trixie.
find a way for them to keep their dog. They have also turned to their doctor, hoping an official letter will show Wactlar needs the pooch to combat depression.
On Monday, Wactlar filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, claiming he
has a disability and the association has failed to provide him a reasonable accommodation for his "emotional support" pet.

Wactlar is also trying to trump the no-pet rule with a Jan. 29 letter from his doctor saying he needs an "emotional support" pet because of
a handicap that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

Resident Richard Collura, chairman of the board's review committee, said he, too, would like a pet, but knew the rules when he moved into the retirement community seven years ago. The community of 350 well-manicured homes east of

Alice Wactlar cuddles with Trixie, the family pet.
Pets originally were permitted in the community,
but when they died they could not be replaced.
Wactler and her husband, Reuben, have owned
three dogs in the past 26 years.
Military Trail and north of Sample Road has the no-pet rule for a reason, Collura said. "Some dogs are barking. Some birds are cawing, disturbing the peace."

Collura gets steamed when one parrot owner drives around the neighborhood "flaunting" his pet, and when Wactlar rides around in his motorized scooter with his dog. Wactlar and Trixie visit a nearby neighborhood park three times a day.

"It's ridiculous," Collura said. "If they can have one, why can't I? It's the rules."

More and more residents in communities with no-pet rules are relying on the so-called "prescription pet" phenomenon, in which they claim their pet helps combat health problems ranging from arthritis to depression, said Fort Lauderdale attorney Gary Poliakoff, an expert in condo law not involved in the Deerfield Beach case.

"This is a national issue," said Poliakoff, whose firm, Becker & Poliakoff, has handled several dozen pet dispute cases in the past two years. "There is an evolving debate as to prescription pets, where residents claim they are necessary for [treating] arthritis or depression or loneliness."

The no-pet rule is not unusual for condo and homeowners associations, especially retirement havens that put a premium on quiet, Poliakoff said.

Associations are required by law to allow animals that are specially trained to guide the blind or deaf. The law becomes less clear, Poliakoff said, when residents claim they need pet therapy for depression.

Wactlar's homeowners association has asked for paperwork proving he has a handicap and that the dog is needed to alleviate the disability, said Louis Caplan, a Boca Raton attorney for the homeowners association.

In the meantime, Wactlar claims the no-pet rule has not been enforced until now. He has owned three dogs in the past 26 years, when he first joined the adult community. Each pooch, all Pomeranians, shared the name Trixie.

Alice, also 82 and confined to a wheelchair, bought Trixie from a breeder more than two years ago, about three months after their 12-year-old Pomeranian developed cancer.

During the months Wactlar was without a dog, he entered into a deep depression, said his daughter-in-law Ann Wactlar, who lives in Sunrise. "He wasn't talking, he wasn't walking, he wasn't eating. As soon as they got the dog, he just turned around."

Since receiving the warning in December, two residents have gotten rid of their pets. One woman, Pat McEwen, refused to part with her 4-year-old shih tzu and sold her home.

"I told them I am not going to get rid of my dog," McEwen said of Chrissy, who helped her through the death of a son lost to cancer and her own battle with the disease. "She saved my life."

Maria Benedetto, who lives a few blocks from Wactlar, doesn't mind the dog, but understands why others might object. "They walk around and they can mess up the lawn, and people don't want to walk in the poop," she said.

But Trixie takes her bathroom breaks at the park, said Wactlar's daughter-in-law. "That dog is never out in the yard. She poops in the park."

Trixie is treated like an adored child in the Wactlar home, with her own chest of toys tucked in a corner of the family living room.

"This is when Trixie was a baby," Wactlar said, pulling a photo from his wallet. "Oh man, I couldn't do without her."