Every now and then, I’ll hear from a property manager expressing frustration over a request they received for permission to keep a “companion animal.” The request comes either before or during occupancy by a tenant (or owner, if in a condominium or similar housing) claiming to have a metal or physical disability. I’ve been told, “Anyone who wants a pet can have one just by getting a doctor’s letter.”
The frustration expressed by these property managers is clear. The assumption is that some residents “take advantage” of laws allowing companion animals as a fair housing accommodation when they don’t appear to have a medical need for the animal. The managers feel they’re being “worked,” by residents who want to circumvent landlord policies limiting pets.
Although, to some, the need for such an accommodation may seem unrealistic or exaggerated, medical science is continually proving that pets DO provide quantifiable health benefits. The Delta Society has a number of articles on its website pointing to medical research that substantiates these facts:
• Seniors who own dogs report fewer doctor visits than those who do not.
• Seniors who own pets are more active than those who do not.
• Pet owners have lower blood pressure.
• Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
• Children adjust better to the serious illness or death of a parent with a pet as companion.
• Pet owners feel less afraid of being a victim of crime.
• Pet owners have fewer minor health problems.
• Pet owners have better psychological well-being.
• Pet owners have a higher one-year survival rate following coronary heart disease than those who do not own pets.
• Dogs are preventive and therapeutic for everyday stress.
• Children exposed to pets during the first year of life have fewer incidences of asthma.
• Pets fulfill many of the same support functions as humans for both adults and children.
Not all disabilities are obvious.
Can you tell by looking at someone that he has high blood pressure, depression, or a cognitive disorder? In most cases, these disabilities are “invisible.” Although they are real disabilities, they are not obvious to anyone but close friends and family. When I ponder this, I imagine these invisible disabilities could be some of the most difficult to live with, simply by virtue of the fact they’re not obvious to housing providers. A request for a companion animal by someone with such a disability can often be viewed with suspicion by the housing provider, creating an air of tension between the landlord and tenant. In many cases, this suspicion is completely unwarranted.
The next time you are presented with a request by someone with a disability for permission to keep a companion or assistance animal, rather than assuming the request is unfounded, try to consider your response in light of these healthy facts!
Do you have experience with accommodating the needs of residents with disabilities? Please share your experience here, by leaving a comment.