Boca homeowners group orders cancer-stricken woman to take down dog fence

By Patty Pensa 
Staff Writer 
January 14 2002 

WEST BOCA · As if there hasn't been enough for Deborah Waldbillig to worry about: The nauseating chemotherapy that hasn't defeated her breast cancer, the laser surgery on brain tumors that won't go away, and a doctor's prognosis that she was supposed to die a year ago.

Then there is the fence.

A 4-foot-high, white fence that encloses 4 1/2 feet of her back yard.

It was designed as a convenience so the family's Bichon Frise, Bleau, could run around during the day while Waldbillig rests from the draining effects of radiation.

But the matter of the fence has become anything but simple.

Built without their approval, the Coco Pointe Homeowners Association west of Boca Raton has told the Waldbilligs to tear down the fence. The Waldbilligs say the association is being unreasonable, considering Deborah Waldbillig's condition, without explaining why they rejected the family's formal request.

An attorney who attends Spanish River Church with the Waldbilligs has stepped in on the family's behalf.

The association's attorney, Larry Schner, and the development's property manager, Jeff Kolodney, declined to comment on the case, only saying they hope to resolve it amicably.

"Sitting on the outside looking in, it seems like there's an HOA [Homeowners Association] flexing its muscle," said Russell Silverglate, the Waldbillig's attorney. "This is a woman who's got so much other stuff to deal with. She's too ill to get up and go to work.

"Imagine if it were someone you loved."

Waldbillig, 37, a mother of two children who attend Boca Christian, was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. Herself an attorney, Waldbillig underwent surgery and seven months of chemotherapy before the cancer spread to her bones.

Then her lungs. And her brain.

"Breast cancer has totally changed my life," she said. "I stopped working when it became clear this would be a lifelong battle for me."

A year into that battle, when she began having upper back pain, Waldbillig underwent more chemotherapy. But it didn't work, and oncologists thought she had only six months to live. Waldbillig and her husband, Fred, started preparing their children Bobby, 10, and Lauren, 7, for the inevitable.

But she survived, and church members rallied around the family. Another parishioner gave the family the puppy in August. It was a big deal for the children, especially Bobby, who had taken weekly allergy shots for two years so he could have a dog.

Mary Lynn Bartolomeo heard about Waldbillig's cancer through a mutual friend and asked if the family would benefit from a dog.

"I gave it out of love," said Bartolomeo, a mother of four. "I know how much love our dogs have given us and I felt that family deserved a lot of love."

After accepting one of a litter of six puppies, the Waldbilligs submitted an application to the association for the fence in August. Coco Pointe Homeowner's documents say pets are not allowed outside a home unless the pet is kept on a leash or within a fenced yard.

The documents also say, "No walls or fences shall be erected or installed without prior written consent."

But the Waldbilligs hadn't received a response to their application for more than a month and couldn't stand by any longer. Friends from Boca Raton would drive to her home, just west of U.S. 441, to walk Bleau while Waldbillig underwent treatment in the morning and napped in the afternoon. Sometimes, they paid someone $10 a day to walk the dog.

"They were just dragging their feet, and we didn't have time to wait," said Fred Waldbillig, 40. "This is the last thing we want to have to deal with."

Eventually, the association denied the request, so the Waldbilligs filed an appeal Sept. 20. About the same time the Waldbilligs had the $1,000 fence installed, assuming their appeal would be approved based on her condition. The board denied the appeal Oct. 15 and requested the fence be removed two weeks from that date. Board member Bob Kirshbaum, the only neighbor with a direct view of the fence, said he voted to allow it.

"As a board member, I would have to say I have no comment because it's in the hands of a lawyer," he said. "As a neighbor, I have no objection to the fence. They bought a bigger property, paid a premium, and I thought she should be able to use that property. As far as I'm concerned they're perfect neighbors."

Fred Waldbillig said he and his wife are willing to accommodate the association by painting the fence another color, shielding it with ficus or even putting up a cement firewall. The Waldbilligs said the association has not been willing to discuss the issue. The family is not willing to give up the fight.

"We never discussed giving the dog back," Fred Waldbillig said. "When my wife does die -- and she is going to die from this -- the kids are going to be devastated. I can do so much, and the family can do so much.

"The dog is going to be a nice friend to have at the time."