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Service Animals for Disabled People: Cats as Well as Dogs?

Dogs are widely recognized as excellent service animals for people with disabilities. Indeed, in practical terms the term "service animal" is often virtually synonymous with "service dog."

What happens, however, when the rules of a condominium or townhome association prohibit dogs? A recent Minnesota case is raising the question, and its resolution has implications for West Virginia disability cases as well.

In the Minnesota case, a 55-year-old woman with brain damage has already been approved for Social Security disability benefits. The medical and social services professionals working with her believe she should have a dog to be with her as a service animal.

Unfortunately, the condominium association of the building where the woman lives prohibits dogs. Cats are allowed, but not dogs.

The association has taken the position, then, that a companion cat can take the role of a companion dog.

The woman has filed suit in federal court against the association. She argues that the association has violated the federal Fair Housing Act and a state human rights law by failing to accommodate her disability.

The association contends that, even if the woman is disabled, allowing her to keep a cat is a reasonable accommodation of the disability.

The woman's lawyers were quick to point out her doctor and the other professionals recommended a dog, not a cat. After all, dogs and cats have somewhat characteristics. Cats can certainly be loveable, but they typically do not offer the same level of unconditional love that dogs do.

A ruling has not yet been issued in the case.

Source: "Federal Court Service Animal Ruling Sought: Can a Companion Cat Fill the Paws of a Companion Dog?" ABA Journal, 9-14-12

Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Social Security disability benefits page.

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