Dartmouth dog owner calling for legal recognition of emotional support animals
‘I don’t think ... you have to sacrifice location and sanity to have your dog’
February 3, 2020, 4:58 pm ASTLast Updated: February 3, 2020, 4:58 pm
Lauren Bodden has struggled for years to find a place to live in Halifax for her and her emotional support dog, Riley.
Listing Riley as an emotional support animal in her rental applications doesn’t make a difference because there is no legislation recognizing emotional support animals. She feels pet-friendly living options in Halifax are few and far between.
“In my experience, the only choices for pet-friendly apartments are in unsafe or lower-income areas, or you’re paying $1,500 to stay in a nice place that allows pets,” she said.
Right now, she’s living in Dartmouth in an area where she doesn’t feel safe. The Dalhousie University student also said her commute to both her job and classes is a long one.
“I don’t think a landlord should make it so difficult that you have to sacrifice location and sanity to have your dog,” she said, adding she couldn’t make it through university without Riley.
William Blake is a former tenant and a landlord of 25 years with properties across Canada. He said he sees both sides of the problem.
A lot of the issues encountered with emotional support animals are due to no outlined definition or classification. Landlords don’t know if an emotional support animal has been thoroughly trained or not, whereas if they’re dealing with a service dog, they have that assurance.
“The biggest worry they [landlords] have with pets is worrying about damages. Number one is damages, and number two is if it’s a multi-unit building, sometimes one pet can disturb the other tenants,” he said.
Blake said most landlords, especially smaller ones, aren’t making the profits people think, and they’re operating on tight budgets. In the current market, landlords have more liberty in who they accept as tenants.
“With the low vacancy rates, a lot of landlords are refusing people, and I know it sounds heartless, but It’s a risk calculation,” said Blake.
He said he once had a tenant who was an irresponsible pet owner. Blake ended up having to spend thousands of dollars to replace the carpet and underpadding in the unit.
That experience made Blake more careful when accepting tenants with pets. He said landlords can protect themselves from the worst-case scenario by having linoleum and protected walls. He also said he gives tenants every opportunity to prove they will be a good owner.
Bodden said she would like to see landlords be open to meeting with prospective tenants’ dogs before assuming they will cause damage.
Blake agreed that would be helpful. He also suggested presenting a reference letter from a previous landlord with a photo of the animal and even offering the landlord an opportunity to see where they currently live. He said it’s all about easing the landlord’s worries and showing you are responsible.
Blake, too, has encountered people with emotional support animals and said legislation would help solve a lot of the uncertainty.
“The tenants have to start contacting the local government and contacting the provincial government because that’s something that legislation could fix,” he said.
Above all, Bodden wants more inclusivity— to be recognized and to live in a place where she feels safe.
“We can be denied or kicked out. We’re not recognized,” she said. “I would love for it to be something that is in legislation and is protected so I could live in a safer environment.”
Emotional support dogs vs. therapy dogs
Liane Weber is the chief executive officer of The LifeLine Canada Foundation. They have a program called Companion Paws, where they test and train dogs to be personal therapy dogs.
“The reason we use ‘personal therapy dog’ is because we like to separate ourselves from the fraud that is going on out there across the country with respect to emotional support dogs,” she said.
Weber said they consider all animals to be emotionally supportive, but noted there is a difference between having a medical need for an animal and just wanting to take your pet wherever you go.
There are some online sites where people can pay $100 to get a letter and a vest “certifying” their dog as an emotional support animal.
“There’s a step-up of when your dog should be considered an emotional support dog,” said Weber.
“One, you must be working with a mental health professional and that mental health professional needs to know that their client is capable of self-managing and taking care of their dog.”
Bodden said she has letters from her doctors stating her need for Riley.
A spokesperson with Nova Scotia’s Department of Justice commented on the current legislation for service dogs and the absence of any for emotional support animals in an email last Wednesday.
“Service dogs receive formal training to perform specific tasks needed to aid a person who has a medical condition or disability,” said Barbara MacLean in an email. “Therapy and emotional support dogs, while providing a valuable service to their owner, typically have limited or no formal training to perform specific tasks.”
Weber said therapy dogs should be trained just like service dogs are. The only thing that separates the service dog from an emotional support animal is the owner’s level of need and ability.
“A therapy dog is a companion dog that is very well trained and obedient and is just a very loving, calm dog,” Weber said. “A service dog is taught specific tasks that help the individual the service dog is paired with.”
Weber said having proper training for emotional support animals would create a common understanding of what they are and ensure they are well-behaved in public spaces. Legislation is required to make this happen.
“There’s no legislation going on across our country. Everyone is struggling with this whole emotional support dog,” she said.
“We are working on having standards accepted across the country within our program for emotional support dogs only.”
Weber said their program keeps growing as they see an increase in people needing an emotional support animal.
For now, Bodden will keep an eye on apartment listings.
“I’m not giving up my dog just because I can’t find an apartment. So wherever I have to live, I’m going to live. It would be nice if there were more options,” she said.
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