Dispute over service puppy in Oregon settled

SALEM, Ore. — A Southern Oregon housing agency will pay nearly $100,000 to a family that faced eviction because it had a puppy being trained to detect blood sugar levels in a 5-year-old girl with diabetes, state officials said Tuesday.

The agreement involves a former tenant of the Housing Authority of Douglas County, Raynie Casebier. In 2009, she filed a disability discrimination complaint, saying she was being evicted and staff members harassed the family, questioning the validity of the service animal.

Casebier’s daughter Ayla has life-threatening Type 1 diabetes, said a statement from Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian.

At the time of the eviction, the puppy, a golden retriever named Lily Joy, was being trained to replace Ayla’s black Labrador, Hunter, who was dying from cancer. Hunter had been specially trained to detect the scent when Ayla’s blood sugar level fell below normal. When that happened, he would bark three times.

In December 2008 the housing authority took over management at the apartment complex where the family lived. The facility had a no-pet policy, and in mid-January 2009, the new management told Casebier to get rid of the dogs or the family would be forced to move out.

State and federal laws prohibit housing discrimination based on disability. They require landlords to make reasonable accommodations, including allowing service animals, even if they have policies against pets, said Bob Joondeph, executive director of Disability Rights Oregon. Service animals are not considered pets, he said.

“These laws are designed to help people be as fully functional as possible,” Joondeph said.

Sometimes people don’t have an obvious disability, which can cause confusion and doubt about a service animal’s purpose, Joondeph said, but landlords can require documentation to support a reasonable accommodation request.

Casebier did just that, providing a doctor’s note that said her daughter had diabetes and used a service dog, but the apartment complex’s management wasn’t satisfied.

The family was forced to move to non-subsidized housing, and as a result of the stress, the puppy failed to bond with the girl, according to Tuesday’s statement.

It also said the housing authority acknowledged mistakes and agreed to resolve the fair housing claims. It will pay a total of $167,000 in damages, including penalties and attorneys’ fees. The authority also agreed to send its employees to training on state and federal discrimination law, and will let the state labor bureau monitor its handling of future accommodation requests.

Reached on Facebook, Casebier said she did not want to comment until she spoke to her lawyer. It was not clear whether her daughter now has a service dog.

The housing authority did not respond to a request for comment.

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