Leisure Village woman hopes to take fight to keep 'therapy' dog to federal court

STUART — To the board of Leisure Village, Carolyn Hoffman's dog is a flagrant violation of the Stuart retirement community's rules.

To Hoffman, the dog is depression therapy protected by federal law.

"When I come in, he greets me at the door," the 75-year-old said in her tidy mobile home off Monterey Road. "If I'm on the computer, he's right here. He's just my little companion."

Hoffman sits dabbing her eyes with a tissue, the toy-sized, white dog cradled in her arm. He's here for a short visit before attorney and friend Oliver Harris takes him back. Hoffman knows that the longer her dog's around, the more likely a neighbor is to find out and have him removed.

Hoffman hopes the sneaking soon comes to an end. She's suing Leisure Village under the Fair Housing Act for the right to keep an "emotional-support animal."

"This is not a pet," said attorney David Boyer, who's representing Hoffman through the non-profit Disability Rights Florida. "It's an emotional-support animal. The federal housing act allows this accommodation."

Hoffman's fight against Leisure Village began in 2004, when the mobile-home park took action against her and long-term companion Derek Adams over their dog. The pair own a mobile home on a lot leased from Leisure Village. Hoffman and Adams were allowed to keep the dog after signing an agreement not to replace it when it died.

Since then, the dog died, Adams moved to England and Hoffman's depression worsened. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Tay Gaines of Port St. Lucie, urged her to get a dog. She chose a fluffy, white toy Maltese that she named Teddy, after the first dog. Early in 2011, Hoffman presented a letter from Gaines to the Leisure Village board of directors requesting an exception to the ban on dogs.

The board refused and in October fought Hoffman in Martin County Circuit Court. The judge ruled against Hoffman because of the 2004 agreement she'd signed.

Boyer considers the ruling erroneous because the agreement was for an ordinary pet, and not an emotional-support animal for someone with a disability. He believes Hoffman is entitled to a hearing in federal court under the Fair Housing Act. A federal judge is expected to decide within the next month whether to hear the case.

West Palm Beach attorney Nicole Wall, representing Leisure Village, said neither she nor the board could comment on the case.

One move in Hoffman's favor came in January, when the Florida Commission on Human Relations issued an opinion suggesting she was a victim of unfair discrimination. The opinion is non-binding, but could influence the court.

Whatever the outcome, Hoffman vows to keep Teddy.

"I'll move out of here," she said, "if I have to pitch a tent."

© 2012 TCPalm. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 5

teddyd49 writes:

THIS is the PROBLEM with federal statutes that preclude ANY private property rights being enforced by condo associations...ANYTHING now is possible with a little help from progressive courts in place.

If you purchased a condo where pets (dogs) were explicitly forbidden, WHY in the world did you buy the thing in the first place, and WHAT gives you the God-given right to force your ownership on this association??!!

"Therapy" dogs are no different than the massive doses of RIDLIN prescribed in schools for disruptive students....a complete SHAM.

cwh301 writes:

My heart goes out to this woman. If this lady needed a "caretaker" 24/7 and her lease forbid anyone else in her home, the law would allow her "caretaker" to be on the premises" 24/7 without adding the name to the lease. This dog IS her caretaker and should be treated as such.

God help those neighbors who may need help i.e Service and therapy dogs in their future.

dfborders#417191 writes:

While my heart goes out to this woman she signed an agreement that when the first dog died she would not replace it. The association was considerate enough to let her keep the first dog instead of having that dog removed. The rules are the rules - some people I'm sure purposely bought in this community because of the exclusion of pets and quite frankly in this day and age you can find a doctor who will write a prescription for anything be it drug or therapy animals. As far as the posts that talk of 24/7 care by a caretaker - the caretaker is not making messes outside [at least I hope their not :<)] the way a dog does, the caretaker won't make noise all night or during the day if it is let out and left alone (like our neighbor does to her - "therapy dog"), the caretaker does not get infested with fleas and ticks, etc. If you don't like the rules somewhere - don't move in!!

Wolfgang writes:


majesticman writes:

It's very possible that some community residents purchased in this community because of the ban on pets. Maybe they're allergic to or afraid of animals. Maybe they just wanted some place peaceful to live out the remainder of their life, absent from animal noise. If the community has rules against pets, then so be it. They were considerate enough before to sign an agreement. They didn't have to do that!
Plain and simple, she is guilty of breach of
contract for violating the signed agreement. She knew then and she knows now that pets aren't allowed. Start looking in the sales papers for
some camping gear, lady.

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.