Editor's note: A later version of this story contains news that the condo association had agreed to the dog's presence. You can find that story by clicking here.
Facing the imminent possibility of a final sunset, Patricia Picavet thought she'd enjoy spending the rest of her days at the spot where she and her domestic partner, Herb Grigg, had long enjoyed watching the sun disappear over Hillsborough Bay: Bahia Beach.
Doctors diagnosed Picavet, 65, of Valrico, with late-stage breast cancer in 2010. She underwent a double mastectomy and radiation treatments, only to be told 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."
Grigg scrambled to make her dream of life by the water a reality by purchasing a condominium in the Little Harbor community last spring.
"It's an isolated little paradise," he said, adding that he had hoped the tranquility of extended visits there would lift his longtime companion's spirits.
But he and the couple's daughter Hollee Grigg, 27, say paradise has been marred by their inability to get the Bahia Del Sol Condominium Association to bend restrictions on the size of dogs allowed there.
The dog in question is Marley, a 70-pound chocolate Labrador retriever that has been Picavet's constant companion during her illness. Condo rules restrict pets to 25 pounds. The Griggs say Picavet needs every pound of canine comfort she can get in her battle to stay alive.
"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."
So far, the association has denied the family's request, warning them in an Aug. 8 letter that having the dog anywhere on condominium property could lead to legal action. Since early December, when a neighbor shouted unpleasant remarks about Marley as Picavet was walking her with a leash, the 6-year-old dog has been restricted to public areas outside Bahia Del Sol on the rare occasion that she visits the community.
Association president Mart Diana could not be reached. Other board members and their Tampa attorney, David Lopez, either did not return calls or declined to comment.
Grigg 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 an animal used for emotional support. Grigg and Picavet say they hope it doesn't come to a lawsuit, but they are willing to file one to pursue the exception.
Moon said the issue of housing restrictions and 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.
The August letter from the board denying an exception for Marley points out that Grigg signed a paper when he bought the condo in May, acknowledging that Marley would not be allowed.
Grigg said he thought he had no choice, but later a family friend made him aware of federal laws regarding housing and emotional support animals.
The board's letter also lists documentation that would be required for Picavet to keep the dog. Grigg and his daughter say the family complied, providing statements from physicians and a psychologist regarding Picavet's diagnosis and need for an emotional support animal, in addition to medication.
Marley has been certified as an emotional support animal by the National Service Animal Registry, and Picavet carries an identification card.
Herb and Hollee Grigg say Picavet initially was excited about spending time at the condo. But after the hubbub of family visits surrounding the purchase tapered off, she found herself alone with her thoughts while Herb Grigg, a pharmaceutical sales representative, was away.
Hollee Grigg moved from Knoxville, Tenn., to the family home in Valrico to help care for her mother, but job demands also keep her from accompanying Picavet all the time. She said she has watched her mother slip back into depression, despite an increase in medication.
Picavet said she still receives treatment once a month at 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 an accidental fall.
"I just want her around me," Picavet said. "She makes me feel safe."