canine controversy: Must Dude, owner both go?
Article Courtesy of the St. Petersburg Times
published October 17, 2002
TAMPA -- For now, Dude, the 107-pound mastiff, can stay.
But it's not because his owner, Dwayne Gillispie, who uses Dude as a service dog, won his discrimination lawsuit against the Marina Club of Tampa homeowner's association.
It's because the two sides are in a stalemate.
Last year, the homeowners association board of the gated condominiums in West Tampa filed an injunction to have Gillispie removed from the property. One point listed: Dude's weight exceeds the association's 25-pound limit.
Gillispie, a maintenance worker who was then acting as his own lawyer, countersued in state court, listing several alleged violations by the association. None of the allegations had to do with his epilepsy or Dude's role as a service dog.
It wasn't until several months later, when Gillispie withdrew the state suit and refiled in federal court, that he claimed discrimination. He said he was protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"That was the first time he brought up the claim that he was epileptic and the dog was a service dog," said Dennis Pimm, a board member for Marina Club.
Last week, U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore dismissed Gillispie's suit, saying Gillispie didn't tell Marina Club of his disability until after he sued.
The judge cited the federal Fair Housing Act, which states that a disabled person must report to the housing authority that he is being discriminated against before suing. This gives the landlord a chance to remedy the situation before legal action.
"In other words, a landlord must know of a disability in order to be required to accommodate it," the judge wrote.
Gillispie could not be reached for comment Wednesday. His attorney, Richard La Belle, said they are deciding whether to appeal or amend the complaint. He said the judge's ruling is not a win or loss, just a technical issue.
"Hopefully, we will be able to resolve this with the homeowner's association shortly," La Belle said.
Pimm said the association does not plan to pursue further legal action against Gillispie -- including the original ejection.
He said that could change, though any future action won't involve Dude -- unless the dog bites someone.
Published September 25, 2002
TAMPA -- When Dwayne Gillispie has an epileptic seizure, it's Dude who licks his face and forces his head back, making sure his airway stays clear.
Last year, it was Dude who saved his life.
Tenuta remembers the afternoon he came around a corner with Pat, his 17-pound shih-tzu, and ran headlong into Dude. The mastiff scared him and his dog nearly to death, he says.
And Tenuta admits he isn't particularly fond of Gillispie, either.
"He's a nuisance," says Tenuta, who says he and Gillispie have had several run-ins.
Association officials say: Show us papers proving Dude is a service dog.
"As long as he can produce the proof that this is a service dog, the association has no problem with the dog here," Tenuta says.
But even when Gillispie showed association officials the dog's "Certificate of Qualifications" -- which under federal law, he was not required to do -- it wasn't enough.
"It's a piece of paper. There's no seal on it or anything," says Tenuta. "He's lied so much, I wonder if he is an epileptic."
Jim Delph, a case manager at the Epilepsy Services of West Coast Florida, knows Gillispie and Dude.
He says the image most people have of a service dog is a yellow Lab, with a cape on, leading the blind. But service dogs come in all shapes and sizes and are used to help the disabled in many ways.
A service dog can pick up things in his mouth for someone in a wheelchair. The dog can alert a deaf person if someone knocks on the door.
When Gillispie was first injured, his seizures came twice a week. They still occur about once every two months, he says.
Gillispie says he chose Dude, a Spanish brindle mastiff, specifically because he is large. The dog is strong enough to block him or pull him out of trouble if it becomes necessary.
Gillispie says he has even gone rock climbing with his dog. Dude wears booties, a harness and a little backpack.
Osvaldo Hernandez, a neighbor of Gillispie not involved in the lawsuit, says Dude is a good dog.
"He doesn't bother anybody," Hernandez says.
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