Emotional support animals: B.C. woman allowed to keep 3 cats, tribunal rules

Fourth Annual Edmonton International Cat Festival takes place Saturday, May 26, 2018

A B.C. woman has won her fight to keep her three cats in her home -- where a by-law prohibits people from having more than one pet in their unit -- after a tribunal ruled the animals were necessary for emotional support 

A ruling earlier this week described the circumstances that led the woman to pursue the matter with the province's Civil Resolution Tribunal.

Zackary Lenius purchased a condo in October of 2020 and moved in with his wife, Jennifer Schlosser. A month later the couple received a letter from the strata saying there had been a complaint that there was more than one animal living in the unit.

Tribunal vice-chair Kate Campbell, who wrote the decision, said it is "undisputed" that the strata has a by-law that only allows residents to have one cat or one dog.

In response to the strata's letter, Lenius said "the cats were 'support animals,' which he and his spouse had a right to keep under human rights legislation," according to the decision.

In support of this claim, Lenius provided a letter to the strata from a registered social worker in Saskatchewan. It said Schlosser had been diagnosed with anxiety as a teenager, and that she "has 'always had' three cats specifically for therapeutic support and relief," according to the decision.

"Jennifer’s cats are a long-standing and an integral part of Jennifer’s treatment plan in managing and regulating her anxiety. I would recommend that Jennifer continue to have her cats in her home for the ongoing emotional support they provide her," the tribunal quotes the social worker as having written.

However, the strata replied to that saying they would need documentation from a medical professional in order to consider whether or not the cats are necessary as emotional support animals.

After that, Lenius provided two letters from medical doctors, both obtained in response to the strata's request, both saying she had a diagnosed anxiety disorder.

"It is clear that her three cats are beneficial for her mental health, and that having to remove an animal would be significantly detrimental to her diagnosed medical condition," the tribunal quotes the first letter as saying.

"Therefore, I would recommend that these animals be considered necessary to the above patient’s mental health therapy and that she should not be asked to remove an animal for this reason."

The second letter echoed this, adding that Schlosser “had ‘found therapy’ with her three cats, which she had used for a long time since she was a teenager," according to the decision.

The strata denied the couple's request to allow them to keep the three cats, saying the matter of Schlosser's disability and the question of whether the cats were necessary for her well-being was a matter better suited for the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

However, the Civil Resolution Tribunal does have jurisdiction to rule on this matter even if what is at issue is a claim that the strata was violating the province's Human Rights Code, according to Campbell.

The issue facing the tribunal was two-fold, Campbell explained. First, Schlosser needed to prove that she has a disability, and that there would be an "adverse impact" if she was prohibited from keeping her cats.

Campbell found the documentation from the social worker and two doctors was enough to establish both of these things.

Second, it needed to be established that what was being asked of the strata would not cause "undue hardship." According to Campbell, the strata presented evidence that the majority of other owners support the single-pet by-law, and claimed that Schlosser and Lenius knew about the by-law before moving in.

"I find the strata has not shown how allowing Ms. Schlosser to keep her three cats creates any hardship. The fact that it requires an exception to the bylaws is not a hardship," Campbell wrote.

Ruing in favour of Schlosser, Campbell concluded: "I order the strata to grant her accommodation request by permitting her to keep her three existing cats. I note that this does not permit either applicant to have any three cats, but only the ones they currently have."