and Video Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel
By Mary Shanklin
January 4, 2018
Seventy-year-old Robert L. Brady has until Jan. 11 to
give up Bane, the mixed-breed sidekick that his psychologist deemed as
an emotional support dog.
condominium association won an arbitration order Dec. 12
requiring the Vietnam veteran to surrender the
4-year-old dog because it exceeds the community’s
35-pound weight limit for pets. Bane weighs about 41
pounds. The canine now faces an uncertain future even as
assistance dogs have gained greater access to
communities, restaurants and shops.
“The reason I don't want to lose him is that he keeps my
mind off the war and everything. He's just a wonderful
companion,” said the widower, who retired last year from
working as a theme-park bus driver. “My life would be
lost without a good companion and that's why I'm doing
all I can to keep from having to get rid of him.”
Brady’s attorney, Jonathan Paul, said the association
discriminated by looking only at the dog’s weight
without considering the disabled military veteran’s
documented need for an emotional support animal. He said
they are also seeking guidance under federal fair
housing laws aimed at protecting housing rights of
Bane's fate is uncertain since he exceeds
community weight limits but is deemed an emotional support dog.
Homeowner and condo associations are among those grappling with the
boundary lines for emotional support dogs. Unlike service dogs trained
to assist disabled people with daily tasks, emotional support animals
don’t require training. They can be any species and require no
certification to assist owners who have psychological disabilities,
according to a June article published by the National Institutes of
Health. In Florida, one association lawyer is seeking legislation to
further clarify issues related to emotional support animals.
Every pet that needs to go suddenly morphs into an ESA [emotional
support animal] — Donna Berger, attorney pushing for support animal
Florida law allows service dogs that calm “an individual with post
traumatic stress disorder during an anxiety attack.” Dogs that simply
provide comfort, companionship and security don’t qualify as service
dogs, according to statutes.
Orlando Veteran Administration psychologist Matthew Waesche wrote in an
October 2015 letter that Brady was under his care and that the dog
appears to help keep his owner’s mental health issues in remission.
Orlando attorney Peter McGrath, who represents Orange Tree Village
Condominiums, said Brady is a sympathetic figure but the association’s
animal restrictions become meaningless if left unenforced.
Brady and his dog have never caused problems, although Bane once lunged
at a dachshund owned by an association officer and sometimes barks for
extended periods, McGrath said. The situation is complicated because
Brady’s adult children resided in a nearby Orange Tree Village condo and
kept the dog there until they were cited more than a year ago by the
association, the attorney added. And even though no one has done genetic
testing, McGrath said Bane could be a breed mix that is prohibited on
the condo grounds.
The bottom line is that Brady can continue to pursue further legal
channels but must give up the dog in three weeks unless he gets an
injunction, McGrath added.
Donna Berger, an attorney who specializes in Florida condominium
association law, said property-owner associations can sometimes be “mean
spirited” but pet owners can also push the limits in efforts to keep
dogs that violate rules.
“Every pet that needs to go suddenly morphs into an ESA [emotional
support animal],” she said. “It’s the same old routine.”
She said she is pushing for legislation calling for pet owners to
establish the need for emotional support animals with current medical
Bane lays his chestnut-and-white head in Brady’s lap as his owner
describes why he needs the dog: “Since my wife passed, he helps take my
mind off stuff, like the war.”
Orange Tree Village Condominiums has focused on Bane’s weight for more
than a year. Brady said he has been trying to feed the pet lean food to
bring him closer to the limit but he doesn’t want to starve Bane just to
comply with the association’s prescribed weight for pets.
Berger, whose firms represents associations across the state, said
evicting animals based on their weight is “senseless” because size
doesn’t predict whether a dog will attack someone. Larger dogs can be
more gentle and puppies are acceptable weights — until they grow up. By
then, they are cemented into the family.
“A lot of these weight restrictions are antiquated,” she said.