Many back dog owner as condo chief quits

 

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

By Josh Mitchell
Thursday, June 17, 2004

 

A battle over an elderly woman's Chihuahua has roused legions of supporters for the widow and forced the resignation of a condominium board president who fears for his safety after enforcing a no-pets rule.

 

The uproar comes after 85-year-old Bernadette Casale was ordered to give up her pooch, Cha Cha. As news of her plight spread, scores of supporters have inundated the Bridgeview condominium in suburban Delray Beach with angry phone calls and e-mails.

"It's getting pretty scary," Casale said.

 

So scary that board president Chris Termini has resigned after serving 12 years on the board. Termini declined to comment Thursday to avoid stirring more controversy.

 

"One letter said to the effect, 'If Ms. Casale

loses her dog, my face will be the last face you

see,' " said Joe Conigliaro, board vice president.

Bernadette Casale has shared her Delray Beach condo with her pocket chihuahua, Cha Cha, for five years and vows to stay put. But the condo board says either the dog goes, or she goes.

 

Conigliaro said exempting Cha Cha would be unfair to other residents who must follow the no-pets rule, which was first implemented about a decade ago after a community vote.

 

One neighbor has already vowed, "If she keeps that dog, I'm going out tomorrow and buying me one," said Conigliaro's wife, Joanne.

The dispute began last month when Joe Conigliaro spotted Cha Cha outside the condo and reported her to the board. Casale admitted that she sneaked in her 2 1/2-pound pooch five years ago because she was lonely.

Area residents have offered their homes to Cha Cha and money for a lawyer. Lawyers have offered free legal representation against the condo board. "I says, 'I don't want your money. Donate it to your favorite charity,' " said Casale, who estimates she has received 20 calls. She has retained a lawyer, she said.

The condominium board which had ordered Cha Cha to be gone by Thursday likely will apply for a state arbitrator to oversee the dispute, its attorney said.

Casale said she will move out of her condo of 20 years before she gives up her beloved Cha Cha.

Joe Conigliaro, the board vice president who first reported the dog, says board members have received threats due to their efforts to evict the 2 1/2-pound dog.

 

She hopes a doctor's note citing the need for a pet companion to help combat stress and illness will sway a state arbitrator. Some residents have successfully sued no-pets communities when citing health reasons, law experts said.

Michael Gelfand, a West Palm Beach lawyer who specializes in state condo law, said the Cha Cha dispute reveals the perplexing situations condo boards often face.

"Unit owners have created an impossible contradiction," he said. "They want everything perfect, including their neighbors' doing things according to the rules. But when the rules are enforced against them, they become mean and nasty against the neighbors who have volunteered to do all the grunt work when no one else will step forward."

Casale's supporters contend that Cha Cha causes less harm than the no-pets rule.

"We're talking about a 2 1/2-pound menace to society?" resident Dorothy Bernstein said. "I don't see anything wrong with a pet."