KALAMAZOO, Mich. (April 30, 2014)– “She’s been an emotional support animal for two years. I’m starting to tear up,” said Abigail Janes, Atheena’s owner.
The American Staffordshire Terrier, which looks like a pit bull, is her nationally registered emotional therapy dog that helps Janes deal with anxiety and depression.
“She’s just there to help me to relieve some of my anxiety and get through my day,” said Janes.
The dog has a service badge, an ID number and a service dog coat.
“She knows that when we put on the vest it’s good girl time,” said Janes.
She’s also been a member of the family, watching over her daughter, Gracie, and calming Abigail’s fears as her son Jace, a premature baby, fights for life in the intensive care unit.
The reason Abigail thought she might have to give Atheena up? The Kalamazoo home she rents is for sale.
She needs to find an apartment quickly.
But for two months, she said she’s been denied because rental properties don’t want a “pit bull” on site even though she’s a registered therapy dog.
“It has her badge number and everything and it has her vest and they don’t really look into it, kind of brush it off,” said Abigail.
She said her encounter at Sage Terrace Apartments in Kalamazoo, where signs clearly state that pets are welcome, was the most recent frustration.
Abigail said there she was told that Atheena wasn’t a “welcome breed” when she went in to talk to a staff member during an appointment to fill out an application.
She said she told the staff member,” ‘I have a dog for an emotional support animal’. She kind of stopped and asked me what kind of dog it was. I said, ‘She`s an American Staffordshire Terrier’, and she said, ‘Oh, another name for a pit bull’.”
Abigail said the woman continued to discourage her from renting.
“She’s like, ‘OK, I don’t think our insurance allows that. They’re not supposed to be on the property’. She went and looked that up and she just kind of got an attitude from there I feel like,” said Abigail.
Abigail said calls to the regional manager to talk about the issue went unanswered.
Atheena’s registration badge states that under law, “Landlords are required to make reasonable accommodation (a change in the rules) to permit a disabled handler to keep an ESA, even when a landlord’s policy explicitly prohibits pets.”
It cites the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 and Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
We went to a staff member in the office at the Sage Terrace complex looking for answers.
She said, “I am not allowed to say anything. Everything has to go through Dennis who is my regional.”
However, Dennis Bowman wasn’t on site.
The staff member passed on a message to him and he called us, conducting an interview by phone.
Dennis Bowman, who serves as the regional manager for Group Five Management, said the complex does indeed allow appropriately registered emotional therapy animals.
Bowman said, “As long as it is an emotional support dog, yes, we will allow them. We will just need the paperwork to establish that.”
He went on to say, “We would require a copy and documentation and we’re all set. She would have to be approved on her own terms of residency. Then, the dog policy would come into play.”
Bowman was able to talk to Abigail after we contacted him, offering her the opportunity to again go to the office and fill out an application.
He said for some reason, Abigail didn’t have the correct number for his regional office.
Bowman said the numbers were transposed. Abigail said she will likely fill out the application Thursday.
Bowman said if she meets other residency qualifications, and Atheena’s paperwork is correct, she could very well have an apartment there in the future regardless of her dog’s breed.
As for other complexes who may be ignoring registered therapy animals, Abigail said it’s something that those with physical or mental challenges can’t live without.
“A lot of people don’t even look at it. They don’t really care,” said Abigail. “I felt hurt by it. I can’t get rid of her.”