Tag Archives: disability

support animal 101 part 2

welcome back to support animal 101, i trust you have all faithfully and thoroughly researched all aspects of caring for your future support animal and have a good understanding of the laws that pertain to support animals. i say good because, well, those documents are boring, long, and written for robots. which brings us to our next step in bringing home your support animal:

3. develop your plan of attack

when i was trying to get my support animal, i was reading department of justice documents that left my head spinning. while it was clear that i had a right to the keep an animal, i had no idea how to actually get the animal. i really needed some additional guidance from organizations who were more familiar with interpreting ADA law than i was. i reached out to a non-profit called Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) who also referred me to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to help this process.

reaching out was helpful because it helped me understand the laws a bit better, and it helped me develop the best strategy for my situation. these organizations may or may not be helpful to you (in fact, the person i contacted at PAWS was let go shortly thereafter due to budget cuts and they no longer have someone who is able to help with support animal issues) my point here is to reach out. start searching around for organizations who do advocacy for individuals with disabilities. send out emails asking for contacts. ask at your local shelter if they know the process.

in my case (and i can only speak for myself as different cities and states are going to have different laws) the process went something like this:

  1. signed note from the doctor stating the medical need for my animal
  2. acquire the animal
  3. complete all necessary city ordinance laws for vaccinations and spay/neuter
  4. present qualifying documents to the city shelter and pay a fee for assistance animal tags
  5. notify landlord of support animal and intent to bring home

i would bet that while you may not do things in the exact order that i did, you will still end up doing roughly the same steps. let’s go through each one:

1. doctor’s note

this note is a prescription for your support animal. it should state a clear need for the animal as a necessary part of your treatment. it should state exactly what the animal does to treat your disability, and this disability should be stated in a way that shows it interferes with a major life function. when (not if! positive thinking, folks) you get it signed have the doctor print it on their letterhead.

asking my doctor was a HUGE source of anxiety for me. i was really scared of hearing no and i was already feeling so down because of my diagnosis, i knew i would take hearing no pretty hard. so i went ahead and wrote the note myself. i knew from past experiences with doctors and filling out forms and writing letters that they don’t like doing it. and besides, i had the most at stake here. it wasn’t a huge concern of theirs to write a compelling note. so i drafted up a letter for my neurologist and presented it to her. she read it over, thanked me for writing it and signed it. my heart was literally pounding out of my chest and i had already planned out my rebuttal before even getting to her office, and within 30 seconds the moment i had literally built up for months in my head was over and i had my note.

here’s mine:

Dear ___________,

M has been under my care for Multiple Sclerosis since her diagnosis in September 2011. This condition has produced disability in terms of walking tolerance and fatigue. For these symptoms, M derives a great deal of comfort and support from her dog, Birdie. M has cared for Birdie for six months and is extremely bonded to her.

It is my professional opinion that the ability for M to continue caring for her dog is an important aspect in maintaining her health and well being. Birdie provides M with service and assistance directly related to her disability in the form of encouraging gentle daily exercise which ameliorates fatigue, and helps maintain her current walking tolerance to avoid future decline from de-conditioning.

If you have any questions feel free to contact me at:

Sincerely,

Dr. ___________, M.D.

it is not required to state your medical condition, but if you are willing to disclose, then i think it can help give the reader perspective–they may know someone who has the same illness that you do and having the ability to empathize with your struggles will make your letter more compelling and persuasive.

2. acquiring the animal

at this point, you should be familiar with ADA law and know what type of animal you would like to have as your support animal. if you are trying to adopt a shelter pet as your support animal you may have to speak with your landlord first to get permission for the animal to come home. most shelters (but not all) will require contact with your landlord to see if pets are allowed at your home. this is another reason why volunteering at the shelter might be beneficial. it allows you a chance to make personal relationships with the very people who could be adopting your support animal to you. while it may not be possible to adopt an animal to you until they speak with your landlord, if you have one in mind they might work with you on getting the animal home. or they may become your allies if you are having problems with your landlord.

you’ll notice that we acquired the animal and got all of the necessary paperwork, vaccinations, tags, etc. done *before* we brought her home. in our case, we had friends close by who were willing to look after her while we got everything sorted out. this took us about 5 days. we did it this way because we wanted to do everything up front and knew there was no way we could hide a 50lb pit bull until all of our to-do boxes had been checked off.

3. City ordinances for your support animal 

where i live vaccinations and spay/neuter are required, and in order to keep birdie as my support animal i was required to prove that these things happened. i had to bring supporting paperwork to the animal shelter. i also filled out some documents and showed the letter from my neurologist to get her assistance dog tags. check with your city animal shelter to see what they require for this.

4. notify landlord of support animal and intent to bring home

ok, this is a big one. i’ll tell you what we did. first, when my partner and i were looking for a place, we searched for one with a landlord we liked. we figured that in general this was a good strategy to ensure that our living situation was pleasant, regardless of the support animal. but we were also keeping in mind that a support animal was in the works for us when looking for a place.

once we were in our place we used a variety of tactics to make the transition smooth. we waited a few months so that our landlord could get to know us before we asked for the support animal. in order to build a good relationship with our new landlord we made sure to pay our rent on time every month, and in general did our best to be friendly, easy to manage tenants. if your building has noise ordinances, follow them. don’t be the squeaky wheel. and if you have an opportunity to say “good afternoon” to another tenant in the building or your landlord, always take it. you really want to build personal relationships with those in your building and with your landlord. trust me, not everyone will be understanding or welcoming of your animal. the best way to keep things harmonious is to build those personal relationships before your support animal comes home.

the people at PAWS recommended offering our landlord a deposit but we chose not to do this. just to be clear, legally you do not owe any extra money for keeping a support animal, nor do you have to wait like we did to get one (in fact, the advocate at PAWS alluded to the fact that ADA law covers having an animal even without the dr’s prescription or tag). however, many landlords are resistant to the animal being there and strong arming yourself into a support animal probably won’t be conducive to a happy living arrangement. you don’t want to be at odds with your landlord or the other tenants over your animal.

we started by contacting our landlord by phone and letting him know that we had a prescription for a support animal and planned to bring her home. we scanned all of her paperwork and her pet resume along with a photo and emailed it to him. at that point, i think it would have been hard for him to turn us down.

offering a deposit is one way to help reassure them that you will keep your apartment in good condition. since we were planning to bring home a pit bull, we opted for renters insurance, which insures us in case our dog does the unthinkable and bites someone. our renters insurance company wrote a letter stating that we as well as our dog were covered under this policy. again, while this is NOT required to get renter’s insurance its a wise investment for anyone renting and it went a long way in smoothing things over with our landlord.

one thing i wish we would have done but didn’t is to notify the tenants that birdie was coming. we live in a four-unit building and everyone in the building loves our dog (and so does the landlord) except for one. we have recieved notes on our door, complaints to our landlord, and general difficulties with this person over our dog. i can’t help but wonder if we had taken the time to personally let each tenant know about her arrival if our relationship with this tenant would be better.

 so there you have it folks, our process on getting a support animal. i hope it takes some of the mystery out of the process for you. and just for some motivation, here is another adorable picture of birdie. you know, just in case you haven’t seen enough of them lately.

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support animal 101 part 1

i had been hearing about support animals long before i was diagnosed, so naturally i decided after learning of my MS, i was ready to get my very own. i scoured the internet trying to find information on how to go about the process and i found nothing that laid out step-by-step how to get a support animal.

having gone through it, i would like to pass on what i learned so that others out there who are like me, wringing thier hands in anxiety wanting a support animal so badly but not sure how to start can learn and develop the cajones to go through with this. its easier than you think!

when thinking about what guidelines would have been helpful to me, this is what i came up with:

1. Know and understand the laws

you have to start with doing your research. know what having a support animal means for you and those around you. know when your landlord can say no or ask your animal to leave. it is vital that you have a clear picture of what is and is not legal for you to do. support animals are very different than service animals. while the two are often lumped together when discussing ADA law, you can get into very big trouble for misrepresenting your animal.

support animals are protected by ADA law for individuals who have a psychiatric or physical limitation that interferes with a major life function. and this ADA law only allows you to keep your animal on your home premises with you. it does NOT allow you to take your dog to a restaurant or into the grocery store, or in general let you bring your dog out to public places that an animal would normally not be allowed to enter. ADA law also governs what types of animals you are allowed to keep as a support animal and these differ from what is allowed for a service animal, and you should familiarize yourself with these distinctions. which brings me to my next point…

2. research the animal you are interested in getting

this point is really no different for a person getting a support animal than it is for any other person looking to bring an animal into their lives. you MUST do the research. know your personal limits. if you have mobility or endurance difficulties, then getting a rambunctious lab puppy that requires 2 hour walks and daily trips to the dog park is probably not the best choice. your support animal will still require care and upkeep. are you sure you can provide it?

ADA law does not make your support animal untouchable. if you are a careless caretaker there are grounds for your support animal to be asked to leave the premises. in order to keep your landlord from invoking his/her rights within the law, you must make sure that your physical or psychological conditions do not prevent you from providing appropriate care for the animal that you would like to have. the best way to do this is to really understand what your animal requires for care. research, research, research!

additionally, before you bring an animal home, it might be wise especially if you are a first time owner to get firsthand experience with caring for animals. a good way to do this is to volunteer at a shelter. shelters take in the full spectrum of companion animals from chickens and guinea pigs to dogs and cats so you will get to see a full range of breeds and temperaments to find out what works best for you, and maybe even find your support animal in the process!

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in summary, your first responsibility is to be a good caretaker of your animal. the best start to this is to understand the needs of your animal. research what the animal you are considering requires and know if you have the ability and the resources to provide the care they need. this is true for all people looking to care for an animal, but this is of even greater importance for someone looking to get a support animal. having a support animal is not a get out of jail free card. it does not excuse us from being responsible with our animals nor make us above the law, it in fact makes us more accountable to the people around us.

trust me, there will be people who will think you are playing the system. and there will be others who dislike the fact that you have a support animal and will do everything in thier power to ruin it for you. without a thorough understanding of how the laws protect you and your animal, you run into the possibility of making a mistake that can lead to your support animal being asked to leave the premises.

so do your research while you wait for part 2 🙂

and in the meantime here is yet another picture of my adorable support animal to help motivate you


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anger

feeling frustrated with the american life lately. overwhelmed with grad school. hit my wall 2 weeks ago and since i haven’t fully recovered. when i think about my life all i can think about is how i am failing at it right now. i am failing as a partner, as a friend, as a student, as an employee. failing at all of it! it should NOT have to be this way to get through school!

today i looked into switching over my health insurance to the school plan so that when i cut down my hours to per diem at work i won’t be uninsured and won’t have to pay nearly $1000 for COBRA each month. i was willing to give it a shot, even knowing that i would likely lose my doc’s and have to start all over again with a new neuro…until i inquired about prescription coverage. $500 a YEAR. that’s it. wouldn’t even cover half of one month of medication. useless!! how is this legal?!

if you know someone who thinks that universal healthcare is an infringement on thier rights, you can refer them to me: a gainfully employed, non drug-addicted, intelligent, and hard working person who has had the misfortune of being handed one shitty diagnosis. then that person and i can have a nice chat about whose rights are being infringed upon here.

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so thankful

i have been reading off and on about dog DNA testing today. we have often wondered what birdie’s true genetic make up is. while we are quite sure that there is at least *some* pit bull in there, it seems that there is good reason to doubt that we can accurately determine her mix (or lack thereof) based soley on her looks. when i began entertaining the idea of getting a support animal, it seemed that there were so many possibilities as far as which dog breed i could get. should it be a pure-bred and adorable french bulldog? should i go though a rescue? the SPCA? get a mutt?

i have always favored the bully breeds and i have wanted one for as long as i can remember. but i wondered if living in a small apartment, working, and commuting an hour each way for grad school was too busy of a schedule to make a fair life for a pit bull. i mean, they are big. they are terriers. and they need to expend ENERGY. the last thing i needed was to come home and find my couch eviscerated by an overly bored dog.

so even though my mom had an incredibly sweet and gorgeous red-nosed pitty girl in her backyard, i hesitated on the idea of a pit bull. as you can see, from the posts in the blog, i clearly talked myself into her. i can say that it was not a decision without risks. i was so nervous we wouldn’t be able to make it work. for a time, we weren’t even sure if it would happen.

in late january, she was stolen out of my mom’s backyard and was gone for just about 3 weeks. we were so disappointed and sad over losing her. we truly didn’t think we would ever see her again. but we did. it was literally a spur of the moment decision to bring her home when we did. and the whole experience was quite serindipitous. since then, things have been rocky at times but now we all seem to be settling in nicely.

i’ve had a lot of time to think about where she was during those three weeks and also how getting a support animal went down for me. i could have chosen just about any dog from the shelter, gone to breeder, or found one through craigslist. but i’m so thankful for our pitty girl. not only is she a great dog, i also feel like i was in a unique position with my illness to secure forever a home where she was safe (never stolen again!) and loved for a very deserving dog.

rescues screen potential homes for thier dogs very caerfully, and even shelters with limited budgets do what they can to prevent dogs from coming back but times are tough. plenty of people who thought they were in a position to offer a dog a forever home are losing thier homes, or trying to find a place in a rental market that in general is not pet-friendly, especially not when it comes to bully breeds. consequently, good dogs especially pit bull type dogs are ending up homeless.

since she is my support animal, she has a legal right to stay with me in just about any living situation. at least in that sense, i don’t have to worry if i am foreclosed on and cannot find pet-friendly housing. in these times, that is about as secure of a situation as a dog or thier person could hope for. in a way, it felt like this was an opportunity for me to do some real good for at least one pit bull out there who needed a home. if you are in a position as i was–looking for a support animal, get a pit bull! they will be so thankful.

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just the start

one year ago, k. and i boarded a plane to puerto vallarta. i didn’t know it then, but my life would change on that trip. i came down with shingles, which caused a MS flare, which caused chronic tingling in my legs that took 6 months to go away. eventually, it led to my diagnosis.

i had no idea what i was walking into when i got on that plane. quite literally and figuratively, i was leaving behind my life as i knew it. the cascade of events that would follow changed me.

forever.

this is just the start of an entire year of anniversaries.

since that spring break trip (my first and only in a shamefully L O N G college career) i can feel the difference in the me before diagnosis and the me after. last semester feels like a dream. it is the bridge between the two me’s–the months where i transitioned between them. it’s not that i don’t believe in the same things that i did before, or that i can no longer relate to the hopes and dreams that i had before diagnosis. it’s just that life in general feels different.

last semester was 4 months of sadness and fear and loss. and now i’m past the initial shock and i no longer have tingling legs (although i still do get tingling occasionally when walking). but i haven’t lost that sense that sometime soon the other shoe will drop. i am learning that i will probably always feel that way.

maybe next year i can learn to be ok with that.

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