Oshawa woman denied co-op housing because of therapy dogs
Janet Stefaniuk pets her dachshund, Lady, on her lap while her white, fluffy Samoyed, Kaiyah, rests at her feet. The Oshawa native describes her therapy dogs as lifesavers.
“I do pass out sometimes when I’m very, very stressed,” 64-year-old Stefaniuk, who suffers from fibromyalgia and anxiety, said. “[They] will lay, and if I don’t get up, [they] will bark.”
She recently sold her Oshawa home to make some money and is now living with a friend, which she hopes is a temporary situation. She says her doctor recommended that she try to find an apartment for herself. She is a single resident and if she falls down, neighbours may be able to hear her dogs barking and get her medical help.
She claims she has submitted two applications to Harmony-King Co-operative Homes Inc., and each included a note from a doctor, saying she needs her dogs. But she says the building’s management team told her it has a bylaw prohibiting dogs, so she can’t live there.
The Ontario Human Rights Code states that everyone has the right to equal treatment in housing without discrimination, and animal rights lawyer Camille Labchuk says Stefaniuk can submit a complaint about her case to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
“The law is very clear that it’s not permissible to discriminate against [her] on that basis,” Labchuk said. “Disability includes a person who needs to use a service animal, so in a situation where somebody might be denied accommodation because they have service animals, that’s very problematic because that constitutes discrimination on the basis of a disability.”
The owner of Zock Group Inc., which manages the co-op building, says she will be contacting a lawyer to see if her company has the grounds to keep the dogs away. But for now, she says, the co-op’s dogs bylaw stands, and the building does not have a free unit for Stefaniuk.
“She’s convinced that we’re keeping her away from something,” said Debbie Zock. “But even if we find out that she’s allowed to come in with the [dogs] because [they] qualify as therapy [dogs], there’s nothing there for her.”
In the meantime, Stefaniuk waits for a verdict from the co-op, and she remains loyal to her pets. “Who’s going to be there for me if it’s not my dogs?”
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