Federal law supercedes condo association's edict on medical alert dog

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Q: I live in a condominium complex, and the association won't allow me to have a medical alert dog without a certification from a dog trainer. I want a dog who can bark at the door when I remove my hearing aids. I have chronic pain and I believe a dog would help me.

I've researched this issue, and the restriction is a violation of my civil rights, according to the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. I previously trained a dog to assist me, but my dearly loved dog passed away before I moved here. The (condo) board won't budge. Any advice? -- J.P., Hawaii

A: "It seems federal law applies here, unless there's something unusual and specific in Hawaiian housing law," says Daryl M. Vernon, a New York City-based attorney with a special interest in animal law. "Under the Federal ADA (Americans for Disabilities Act), if there's a dog who performs specific tasks and provides emotional support, you can legally train the dog on your own (to be a service or assistance dog). I'm not sure how a state, let alone a condominium board, might think they can supersede federal law, but I see the attempt to do so all the time."

Vernon says further assistance may be available through the Animal Legal Defense Fund, based in San Raphael, CA.

Personally, I'm unsure about the idea of any dog owner simply saying, "My dog is an assistance or service dog, and trust me, I've socialized and trained the dog." Still, the law stands. No certification is required for service or assistance dogs.

Q: As an unfortunate result of the high foreclosure rate in Las Vegas, many animals have been abandoned. Several months ago, we noticed a cat in our yard and put out food for her. Now, she lives in our yard, and is very affectionate. Then, suddenly, she disappeared and returned spayed and ear-notched.

We have two indoor cats who talk to her through our door. I'd like to bring her inside, but realize that if she were to test positive for feline leukemia, she could endanger our existing cats. The problem is the $100 to $200 fee for the test, plus a rabies vaccine. We can't find a veterinarian who will give us a reduced rate. I can assure you that if we take this cat in, she will be much loved. -- J.M., Las Vegas, NV

A: "It would be interesting to see if this cat has a microchip and can be traced to an owner," says Jenny Schlueter, development director of Tree House Humane Society in Chicago. "In a community the size of Las Vegas, I'd be shocked if there isn't a place to take this cat for low cost (veterinary care)," she said. One example might be a local animal shelter.

You're right about the necessity of checking this outside cat for the feline leukemia virus (which is contagious to other cats) and the feline immunodifficiency virus, or FIV (which also can be transmitted to other cats, primarily through bites). A general physical exam is also a good idea.

The good news is, your cats have begun the introduction process. However, it would be wise to keep the new cat in a room of her own for a few weeks. During this period, you could gradually exchange toys and bedding so your existing cats become better acquainted with the newcomer. Also plug in Feliway (a copy of a calming pheromone) to lower any anxiety. Meanwhile, talk and play with the new cat in her special room to further enhance trust.

Realistically, there is some cost associated with pet care. Cat toys can be homemade, but food and medical just don't come free.

Q: My husband was told that synthetic dog chews or bones, such as Nylabones, are dangerous, causing everything from cancer to stomach damage. A friend said he lost his dog due to cancer caused by Nylabones. What is the truth? -- G.G., Cyberspace

A: The truth is, no one knows for sure if synthetic dog chews or bones are dangerous.

"I know of no study which demonstrates these synthetic products cause cancer," says Dr. Gerry Klein, supervisor of an emergency veterinary clinic in Chicago, IL. "However, because it's a synthetic material that dogs swallow, I can understand the concern. If dogs swallow enough, especially pieces that are a quarter an inch or larger, this artificial material isn't disintegrating in the gastric acid. Still, in truth, we see far more obstructions as a result of swallowed socks, underwear, corn cobs and various other chew toys."

Brittle cooked bones (such as chicken or rib bones) are also hazardous. Better choices include manufactured sterilized bones, Greenies, or rawhide (preferably made in the USA). Having said that, anything a dog chews on without adult supervision could, in theory, be dangerous.

Q: I rescue cats. Yes, I'm your proverbial crazy cat lady! I really like your columns and appreciate your perspective on declawing and keeping all cats indoors. You take a stand, and I thank you for that. Where can I read more of what you write? -- F.G., St. Paul, MM

A: Thank you so much for asking, and for your kind comments. I also appreciate the work you do to save lives. Crazy cat ladies aren't generally crazy at all; I prefer the term, 'compassionate cat ladies.'

I do happen to have an ebook out, which emphasizes cat behavior issues for kittens to senior cats. "Good Cat!" is available at Amazon.com and wherever ebooks are sold.

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)

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