A woman with celiac disease says she has filed a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission that she has been denied the "reasonable accommodation" she is entitled to under law. This case would not ordinarily make the national news, but the reason for her complaint is that her landlord, the Central Vermont Community Land Trust or CVCLT, has denied her request to keep a 100 lb. miniature horse as a service animal in her apartment. The Barre Montpelier Times Argus carried the AP story:
"Patty Cooper, 50, of Waitsfield, who has brittle bones and suffers from celiac disease, says the 32-inch tall tobiano pinto would be an ideal helper. She plans to attach shafts between its harness and her wheelchair, allowing the animal to take her to a bus stop and into town to do errands.
She says the animal, a 1-year-old gelding named Earl who cost her $1,000, can be house-trained.
But the Central Vermont Community Land Trust, which owns the 24-unit Mad River Apartments complex where she lives, isn't so sure. The group is concerned about horse droppings, hay storage and lack of grazing space and has denied her request...
The group has told Cooper the horse would have to be kept elsewhere — not in the 4-by-6 stall she designed in her living room. For now, Earl is staying at a farm owned by a friend in neighboring Warren, where Cooper visits and trains him."
The Central Vermont Community Land Trust is not a typical landlord. The Trust is a non-profit organization whose mission is "to create and preserve safe, decent and affordable housing and build strong and diverse communities." These are the last folks you would expect to see named in a human rights discrimination suit. In a press statement, CVCLT said its policy:
"is to make every effort to accommodate the specific needs of our disabled residents, including making allowances for service animals when the service to be provided is reasonably related to the disability at issue...Due to the unusual circumstances associated with housing a pony in an apartment setting...careful review and consideration is being given to this request in order to determine whether this animal can reasonably address the specific needs described by this resident while assuring the overall welfare of both the animal involved and neighboring residents in the apartment complex."
Something very sad is going on, here. Ms. Cooper is in subsidized housing that was not designed to accommodate an animal like Earl, and it may well be impossible to come to an arrangement that would satisfy her desire to keep the horse as a service animal and the heath and welfare concerns of the Trust. It cannot be merely a question of a need to provide locomotion for her wheelchair - there are electric motors for that. Earl clearly is more than just an animal helper to Ms. Cooper. But filing a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission, I fear, will make her case appear frivolous in the court of public opinion, and expose both Ms. Cooper and the non-profit affordable housing Trust to unnecessary legal expense. Sometimes, not getting to yes is the only reasonable outcome.