A disabled woman, Ms. Rubin, has been denied the ability to purchase a unit in Kennedy House, Inc., a “residential cooperative building” with a no-pet policy, because she was unable to prove that her dog provides assistance for her claimed disabilities, as recently decided by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Kennedy House Inc v Philadelphia Comn on Human Relations, 2016 WL 3667992 (Pa. Commw. Ct. July 11, 2016).

The opinion analyzes the burden of proof required by individuals claiming the need for a service or assistance dog in order to overcome a prohibition on pets in residential buildings.

In this case Kennedy House agreed that Ms. Rubin was suffering from a number of physical ailments and medical conditions that constitute a physical disability, but disagreed with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (Commission) that had found Kennedy House had impermissibly discriminated against Ms. Rubin by denying her application to purchase a unit and live with her service dog, Mira, at the cooperative.

The Commonwealth Court reversed the Commission’s decision, rejecting the test used by the Commission, that an accommodation to a disabled individual is required if keeping the animal has “some relation to their disability” and instead held that there must be “a sufficient nexus between the disability described in the medical information and the assistance provided by the animal.” Id., at 11.

Ms. Rubin testified that Mira helps her order her life, and reminds her to take medications, eat meals, and when to get up. The Court concluded that because Ms. Rubin did not demonstrate a need for her assistance animal directly related to the disability described by her physician, we cannot conclude that Ms. Rubin satisfied her burden.

It is clear that Mira is important to Ms. Rubin and enhances her quality of life. Ms. Rubin’s physician stated:

[Ms.] Rubin has multiple medical issues that affect her mobility. She benefits from the support of a service dog. She currently has a dog that serves this role for her. Please consider allowing [Ms. Rubin] to keep the dog. Loss of this animal would impair her ability to function.

But the Court Opinion concluded:

because Ms. Rubin’s physician described a disability related to her mobility, and there was no evidence establishing a nexus between her mobility-related needs and the requested assistance animal, Ms. Rubin did not meet her burden of proving that it was necessary for Kennedy House to waive its no-dog policy.

There is increasing evidence (for those who did not believe it empirically) that pet ownership benefits humans physically and emotionally, whether disabled or able-bodied.

As people become more reliant on this bond with their pets, we should expect to see the attempted use of service and assistance animals continue to expand, as previously discussed on several occasions (Colorado Attempts to Crack Down on Fake Service Animals ; Protecting the Rights of Disabled Individuals’ Continued Use of Service Animals ; A Commission to Ensure Integrity in the use of Service Animals ; Service Animal or Playful Pet? Complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act ).