Loophole could let pets off the leash

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shutterstock_311447876Want to share your space with an animal in a pet-free building?  Just get your doctor to sign a letter saying you need it for “assistance”.

That seems to be a growing trend in Strataland where a number of owners corporations have reported residents trying to use the “assistance animal” loophole to flout anti-pet by-laws.

And while some people have a genuine need for assistance animals, in one recent case an allegedly hearing impaired owner successfully fought to keep his yappy “hearing dog” (which had been driving neighbours mad) claiming it had been trained to alert him to people being at the door … by barking. FYI: Hearing dogs are usually trained to use visual clues.

“We live in a small townhouse complex and have a by-law preventing the keeping of any animal on the premises (apart from guide dog or hearing assistance dog),” says Kenny R on the Flat Chat Forum. “A prospective purchaser is claiming to have medical approval to keep an assistance animal.

“We are not aware of what the purchaser’s disability is and he will not present his doctor’s certificate, only a letter from the doctor claiming that he “is advised to obtain an assistance animal to deal with the symptoms of the condition.

“We are concerned that there is a precedent being set. The purchaser is knowingly moving into a small complex where the majority of owners clearly do not want pets.”

While strata law states that schemes can’t prevent residents from keeping, specifically, guide or hearing dogs, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 guarantees that people partnered with an assistance dog have total access rights, including overriding any no-pets by-laws.

However, Section 54A of that Act also states that it is not discriminatory for the owner to be required to produce evidence that they have a medical need for the animal, or that is a bona fide assistance animal “trained to meet standards of hygiene and behaviour … appropriate for an animal in a public place.”

So what do you do if a prospective owner claims they have an assistance animal? One of our Flat Chat stalwarts has devised a three-point check list  for his scheme, including requiring proof that there is a disability and that the animal is a genuine assistance dog.  You’ll find that here.

You can also find fact sheets on assistance animals, from people who train them, at awaredogs.org.au.

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