The sunsets will be a little sweeter this weekend for cancer survivor Patricia Picavet, as she shares them with her constant canine companion, Marley, at her Bahia Del Sol condominium for the first time in nearly two months.
Picavet, whose longtime domestic partner, Herb Grigg, bought the condo last spring to bring some peace to her battle against late-stage breast cancer, had been pining for the chocolate Labrador retriever that was banned from the complex because of weight restrictions.
On Wednesday, Picavet was on her way to the condo with all 70 pounds of Marley legally in tow. She said the Bahia Del Sol Condominium Association told her that it would bend the rules in the wake of media attention in the case and the possibility of legal action to enforce federal laws requiring accommodations for emotional support animals.
"I'm feeling so excited right now," Picavet said. "I'm going to get to keep her."
The association's attorney, David Lopez, said Wednesday the board had agreed to allow the dog and declined to discuss the decision.
"That's all I have to say on the matter," he said.
Association board members did not return calls or declined to comment earlier this week.
Picavet, 65, was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer in 2010. She underwent a double mastectomy and radiation treatments, only to be told that the disease had spread to her bones.
"I don't know how much longer I'm going to live," Picavet said. "It could be one year. It could be three years."
She and Grigg had talked of retiring to the Little Harbor area one day, and Grigg scrambled to make Picavet's dream of life by the water a reality by purchasing the Bahia Del Sol unit in May. He said he signed a paper acknowledging the association's weight restrictions for pets, but then found out that federal rules require special accommodations for animals deemed necessary for a disabled person's treatment.
He, Picavet and the couple's daughter, Hollee Grigg, 27, secured statements from treating physicians and a psychologist. They also registered Marley as an emotional support animal through the National Service Animal Registry.
Even so, the board had not wavered until this week.
"Because of her illness, she gets depressed a lot. She gets tired," Herb Grigg said. "She gets a lot of satisfaction and emotional support from the dog."
In early December, a neighbor shouted unpleasant remarks about the dog as Picavet was walking her on a leash. Marley stayed away from the condo after that.
Herb and Hollee Grigg said they were forced to watch Picavet slip deeper into depression, despite an increase in medication. Picavet said she often had to stay at the condo alone while family members were at work, and that made her feel sad and worried about falling or needing other assistance.
Instead of enjoying the bay vista shoreline, she often remained at the couple's Valrico home, where she had the companionship of her dog.
The Griggs hired Brandon attorney Mark Moon to press the condo board to allow Marley under federal fair housing and disability laws that say landlords and other housing providers must make reasonable accommodations for emotional support animals.
Moon said the issue of housing restrictions and emotional support animals prescribed as therapy for depression has become a hot-button issue in Florida and across the nation, particularly as the practice becomes more popular for treating veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Generally, he said, court decisions have leaned toward requiring housing providers to accommodate the animals.
Picavet said she still receives treatment once a month at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. For the moment, the cancer has stabilized, she said.
Her daughter said she wants it to stay that way, and the specialists have emphasized the importance of avoiding stress.
"She needs to be positive and happy," Hollee Grigg said.
Picavet said Marley lifts her spirits and would alert others in case of danger or a fall.
"I just want her around me," Picavet said. "She makes me feel safe."
Susan Marschalk Green can be reached at [email protected]