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A lawsuit says a woman's pets are a medical necessity

OLDSMAR — A disabled woman has sued her homeowners association for banning the pets on which she depends for emotional support.

Kathleen Klein, 68, suffers from a host of medical problems including fibromyalgia, a disorder that causes fatigue and depression. As part of her treatment, her doctor suggested she keep domestic animals — in her case, two dogs and a cat.

But the association, which sets the rules for Gull Aire Village mobile home park off Curlew Road, does not allow more than one pet per household. It said either the animals — or Klein and her husband — would have to go.

The association began fining Klein $100 a day — to its statutory maximum of $1,000 — for keeping the animals, said John Shahan, Klein's attorney.

Dr. Danny Fox, Klein's physician at Oldsmar Family Practice since 2003, wrote to the association after that ruling to defend his prescription.

Klein, he wrote, is alone 40 hours a week while her husband works, and her condition often keeps her from visiting with friends. The "emotional support animal companions" provide her companionship she would otherwise miss.

"The dogs and cat lie beside her, and petting them lowers her blood pressure and elevates her mood," Fox wrote. "They are not mere 'pets.' They are intended to be a permanent part of her treatment and support system, and she should not be separated from them."

The association, Shahan said, ignored Fox's medical opinion and continued the fine. Shahan said that represents a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act's protection for the disabled.

Klein's suit, filed late last year in federal court, asks for at least $75,000 in damages.

The association's attorney, Jeremy Rogers with Spector Gadon & Rosen, wrote in response to the suit that Klein failed to ask for an exception to the neighborhood rule before bringing the animals home.

Rogers would not comment except to say, "There are association rules, and we are within our right to enforce them."

The park's one-pet rule has been the subject of previous lawsuits. Daniel and Elaine Fellows, owners of Mistyblue and Precious, and Rick Mullins, owner of Bellagio and Chutney, sued the association in 2008 to save their dogs from eviction. Real estate agents, they said, did not disclose the rule before they moved in.

A county judge ruled against Mullins; that verdict has been appealed in circuit court, Shahan said. The Fellowses' suit remains open.

Shahan said Klein's case is different because her disabilities should allow her special accommodations.

"This mobile home park is not complying with a federal law," Shahan said. "They don't care. They don't even want to talk about it."

Contact Drew Harwell at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

A lawsuit says a woman's pets are a medical necessity 01/19/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 7:14pm]
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