Sunday, November 13, 2016

Village Zoning Board Votes 4-1 To 'Green-Light' Parkinson's-Suffering Homeowner's Request To Keep Goat For Emotional Support, Despite Rule Against Farm Animals; Board's Attorney: It Had No Choice, Federal Law Requires "Reasonable Accommodation" For Disabled; Dissenting Board Member: Next Time, Someone Will Want A Horse Or A Chicken!

In the Village of Hudson Falls, New York, the Glens Falls Post-Star reports:
  • Greg Cutler is keeping his goat.

    The village Zoning Board of Appeals voted 4-1 [] to grant a waiver to the rule against farm animals within village limits.

    Cutler’s goat is an emotional support animal and thus must be allowed, the board decided.

    But board members and the public debated the issue for an hour first, trying to weigh possible problems against the reality of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.(1) Cutler has Parkinson’s disease.

    The Cutlers offered documentation proving the goat is an emotional support animal, which is protected under the act as a “reasonable accommodation” to help people who have disabilities.

    But board member Jim Ross worried that granting Cutler’s request would open the floodgates. “Next month someone could have a doctor’s note for a horse,” he said. “Someone could say they need fresh eggs so they have to have chickens.”

    He was the only board member to vote against the waiver. He added later that he just couldn’t believe a goat was a support animal. “If it had been a service dog, I would’ve been the first one to vote yes,” he said. “I don’t feel that denying this person a goat is in violation of the disabilities act. That’s the first time I’ve heard of a goat being a service animal.”

    Other board members also expressed reservations about the goat.

    “They’re very social but they need to have companionship of other animals. I think he needs to be with other farm animals,” said board member Bridget Davis. “I don’t understand why (a goat) – there’s so many animals in the pound.”

    However, board attorney Bill Nikas made it clear the board had no choice.

    Our federal law has carved out somewhat of an exception for emotional support animals,” he said. “We are required by constitutional law to accommodate reasonably, in this case, an emotional support animal.”

    He advised the board to set conditions to keep the goat clean, healthy, safe and confined to the property. But that’s as far as they could go, he said.

    “We have a situation with a man with a disability. He’s telling you he needs this animal,” Nikas said. “If there are 50 people with a disability that need emotional support animals, then you’ll deal with it.”

    Board members had clearly gone by the Cutlers’ house to see the goat. They noted approvingly that it was always indoors or on a tether, that the tether was moved from place to place in the yard, and that one of the family’s two dogs was always also outside on a tether to keep it company. They said there were no unpleasant odors from the yard as well.

    Cutler’s wife Cindy also told them that the goat, an unexpected gift from a nursing aide, was changing Cutler’s life for the better. “The goat has made his life not only bearable, but has greatly increased his quality of life,” she said.

    Partly that’s because the goat is personable and Cutler has taken to it. But the goat also draws youthful visitors every day, and Cutler is helped out onto the porch so that he can see and talk to the children who stop by. Before the goat, he got few visitors and had little interest in making the extreme effort to go outside to talk to passersby.

    Some neighbors came to the meeting to urge the board to let him keep the goat.

    “Especially in the summer, it’s a real joy,” said neighbor Dan Donahue who walks his dog by the goat every day and sees children visiting the goat. “The goat is very friendly, even to my border collie. I think the goat is a real addition to the neighborhood, and I for one would hate to see it gone.”

    Resident Bridget Doyle also spoke in favor. “It’s potty-trained. It’s house-trained and it’s helping somebody. Where is our humanity?” she said.

    But some neighbors told the board not to allow the goat.

    “What if, further down, everybody wants the same thing?” asked Suk Cha, who also said farm animals are not clean and should not be allowed in the village.

    When the board finally agreed to conditions and voted to allow the goat, Cutler could not physically smile or celebrate. But he said he was thrilled. “It was nip and tuck for awhile there, wasn’t it?” he said.

    Months ago, he said he knew he could not win against the government – but that the goat made it worth trying.

    After winning, he credited the Americans with Disabilities Act.(2) “I had some real good help,” he said.
For the story, see Man with Parkinson's gets to keep goat.
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(1) In actuality, in this context, the reasonable accommodation for an emotional support animal to be made for persons with disabilities is required under the federal Fair Housing Act.

(2) Ibid.

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