Marco Island man in battle over need for service dog in no-pet condominium

William DeShazer/Staff 
 Larry McKay, of Marco Island, poses for a portrait with his service dog, Kane, in front of his condominium on Thursday Sept. 19, 2012. The boxer helps him stand, walk, get up when he falls, turn on lights, and dial 911. South Seas East Condominium Apartments of Marco Island evicted Kane from the no-dog condo, alleging Kane urinates incessantly and defacates on the property.

Photo by WILLIAM DESHAZER, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

William DeShazer/Staff Larry McKay, of Marco Island, poses for a portrait with his service dog, Kane, in front of his condominium on Thursday Sept. 19, 2012. The boxer helps him stand, walk, get up when he falls, turn on lights, and dial 911. South Seas East Condominium Apartments of Marco Island evicted Kane from the no-dog condo, alleging Kane urinates incessantly and defacates on the property.

— When Larry McKay gets up in the morning, he reaches for Kane to brace himself and walk through his Marco Island condo.

If he falls, the 80-pound Boxer is immediately at the 56-year-old disabled man's side to help him up. At McKay's command, Kane can turn on the lights by hitting a box, even call for medical help by hitting a medical call box with his paw.

Like a cane, Kane gives McKay support and provides mobility, bracing his strong body and allowing McKay to hold his metal U-shaped harness to get up and walk.

But McKay lives part-time in a no-dog community, South Seas East Condominium Apartments of Marco Island, which considers Kane a canine non grata.

"You'd have thought I brought a leper colony with me," McKay said of his mobile-assistance service dog. "They said, 'Go home and take your dog. Dogs aren't allowed here.' … People do not recognize the Americans with Disabilities Act. I'm tired of being part of the invisible minority with no rights."

South Seas brands Kane a nuisance.

"The dog urinates over the railing of the unit, incessantly relieves itself on the walkways and is permitted to be unleashed outside," the association wrote in a complaint to the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, alleging McKay never provided it with enough information to gauge his request for a service dog.

McKay denied the allegations. Still recovering from surgeries after an infection disabled him, he lost that fight in January, when the association won a default judgment barring Kane from the property.

Now, both sides are locked in a battle over the ADA in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers, where a trial is scheduled for March, if mediation this month doesn't resolve the dispute.

The lawsuit filed by McKay's attorney, Casey Weidenmiller of Naples, alleges South Seas is violating the ADA, the federal Fair Housing Act and Florida Housing Rights Act. It alleges McKay is handicapped, his impairments substantially limit his walking and balancing and that South Seas should have allowed the service dog as an accommodation under the ADA.

"It is unbelievable that Mr. McKay's neighbors choose to make his life more difficult and not help a man they admit is disabled," Weidenmiller said. "His doctor has stated time and time again that his dog is medically necessary and yet the association prefers litigation over working together for a solution to help Mr. McKay."

"We have a mediation scheduled and hopefully the association will do the right thing and let Mr. McKay have the service dog he needs," he added.

South Seas' attorney, Matthew Rabin of Sunrise, declined to comment.

Under the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) investigates cases involving service animals, as well as companion- and emotional-support animals.

Nationally, 346 complaints were filed so far this year involving service animals, according to HUD statistics, which show 20 filed in Florida. Last year, 441 were filed nationwide, 40 in Florida, and in 2010, 495 were lodged nationally, 60 in Florida.

Marco Island resident Larry McKay’s case was one of the Florida cases filed this year, but it was closed after the party that filed the complaint didn’t cooperate with federal investigators, HUD spokeswoman Shantae Goodloe said.

Records show HUD investigated 12 service animal complaints in Collier County over the past five years. Half were found to be without cause, two were settled, and the rest were dismissed by a judge or administratively closed.

Service dogs are licensed without fees. Collier County dog licensing records show there were eight service dogs licensed in fiscal 2012, six the prior year, and eight in 2010.

* * * * *

Some major retailers have been charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with barring service animals.

In 2009, Wal-Mart was cited for violations after denying access to people with service dogs. It agreed to pay $150,000 to people who filed grievances and agreed to train its employees and launch a public service campaign. It was required to pay $100,000 into a fund the U.S. Civil Rights Division will use to finance a public service announcement campaign to increase awareness of access rights of people with disabilities who use service animals.

In July 2010, Blockbuster settled a similar complaint. In Florida, the Golden Cab Corp. of West Palm Beach settled one in 2008.

Court records show South Seas denies refusing to accommodate McKay, pointing out it's just relying on the default judgment. It denies McKay is handicapped, has physical impairments or needs a service dog, contending other assistance devices such as a walker or cane could provide the same assistance.

South Seas accuses McKay of being aware of its no-dog policy before he bought his condo, alleging he brought Kane in without telling anyone or filing an application. The association repeatedly refers to Kane as a pet and initially maintained he wasn't a properly trained service animal. Now, the association is focusing on McKay, asking him to prove his disability and confirm Kane won't cause medical, physical or psychological harm to other residents.

Passed in 1990, the ADA protects the rights of the disabled, including the use of service dogs. Last year, the federal law was amended to clarify service animals as dogs or, in limited cases, miniature horses. The amendments clarified their functions, specifying service dogs can be trained to assist children and adults with various disabilities, including physical and psychiatric, autism, hearing and vision-impaired, and those who need animals to fetch items or pull wheelchairs.

The amendments also clarify that those with mental disabilities who use service animals trained to perform a specific task are protected under the ADA, but dogs not trained to perform tasks that mitigate effects of a disability, including dogs used for emotional support, aren't service animals.

McKay wasn't disabled when he purchased his condo in December 2008. A month later, he was in a Maryland hotel and noticed his foot was bleeding in the bathroom. The next morning, he felt sick and couldn't move. He collapsed and kept falling down. When he checked out, hotel employees urged him not to drive, but he drove home and a friend took him to the emergency room. "I felt like I was dying," he said.

Doctors discovered he had MRSA — methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a powerful infection resistant to most antibiotics. It had traveled up his leg and into his spine. He was put in a medically induced coma and doctors removed a portion of his toe and spine, shortening him an inch.

He was in intensive care for three weeks and rehab for six weeks. When he returned to his home in Fairfax, Va., he slept, unable to care for his two daughters and two dogs, including Kane. After he was able to walk again, the infection returned in December 2009, and he underwent three amputations until his right big toe was fully removed.

"I had to learn how to walk again," he said, adding that he decided to have Kane trained as a mobility service dog and teach him to use Service Dog Assistance Products, which turn on lights and appliances or call for medical help.

"He's given me my independence back," McKay said, noting that the Social Security Administration declared him disabled. "But those condo people are after me because I look normal. I tell them he's my service dog and they say it's a scam. They told me not to come back with Kane or I would be arrested."

Bill and Donna Lovejoy, who rented a South Seas condo last year, couldn't believe residents' attitudes toward McKay and Kane, whose jacket signifies he's a service dog.

"As soon as he got there, all those old biddies started telling him he couldn't be there with the dog," Donna Lovejoy said. "It really was a shame. They didn't care that he was handicapped. They treated him like he had leprosy."

"They don't realize their lives could change in a flash," she said of getting disabled.

Two weeks ago, McKay traveled to Naples for a deposition and stayed in his condo with his fiancée, Beth McColl. McKay struggled, breathing heavily as he got up. He held Kane's metal brace as he walked around his condo, his limp and disability apparent. Later, he used his motorized wheelchair to take Kane outside to relieve himself, using a bag to remove it.

When the couple goes to restaurants, Kane, who wears a red jacket marked "Service Dog," obediently crawls under the table, sitting quietly.

"He's better behaved than most children," McColl said.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 12

bondie writes:

I csnnot believe that the residents would ever complain about a service dog. Howself selfish could they be? Do they not understand the imortance and need for having a trained service dog? Are these selfcentered folks unaware of the need and acomplishments of a service dog used for the blind, the inferm and even for our soldiers in the battlefiels? How could they actually deny a person of such a wonderful helper and compainion? Instead of their selfcenteredness, they should offer their time and services indcluding asking the gentleman if could help perhaps by walking his dog. If someone has special needs we shoul offer our services and try to help them rather than have them removed from their home.

mur224 writes:

I find it amazing that this man can be out at various bars, so drunk that he can hardly talk,is some how able to walk without the use of a cane or walker, and when the " service dog" is with him, the dog is allowed to roam freely, people play with, pet and and handle the dog. I know people who actually utilize service animals and never have I seem them allow the dog to stray or be handled by other people. In fact, I am pretty sure your not supposed to interact with the service animal. I guess he needs the animal when its convenient and wants to use the ADA when its to his benefit. While I admit, this man has a physical issue, it has not prevented him from walking around, drinking and doing other things at times without the dog, cane, walker or other device. I am all for the use of service animals and allowing for issues relating to the ADA, but this guy is only using them when he wants something or its convenient for him.

marco826 writes:

in response to mur224:

I find it amazing that this man can be out at various bars, so drunk that he can hardly talk,is some how able to walk without the use of a cane or walker, and when the " service dog" is with him, the dog is allowed to roam freely, people play with, pet and and handle the dog. I know people who actually utilize service animals and never have I seem them allow the dog to stray or be handled by other people. In fact, I am pretty sure your not supposed to interact with the service animal. I guess he needs the animal when its convenient and wants to use the ADA when its to his benefit. While I admit, this man has a physical issue, it has not prevented him from walking around, drinking and doing other things at times without the dog, cane, walker or other device. I am all for the use of service animals and allowing for issues relating to the ADA, but this guy is only using them when he wants something or its convenient for him.

A good Lawyer could prove that...

RayPray writes:

in response to mur224:

I find it amazing that this man can be out at various bars, so drunk that he can hardly talk,is some how able to walk without the use of a cane or walker, and when the " service dog" is with him, the dog is allowed to roam freely, people play with, pet and and handle the dog. I know people who actually utilize service animals and never have I seem them allow the dog to stray or be handled by other people. In fact, I am pretty sure your not supposed to interact with the service animal. I guess he needs the animal when its convenient and wants to use the ADA when its to his benefit. While I admit, this man has a physical issue, it has not prevented him from walking around, drinking and doing other things at times without the dog, cane, walker or other device. I am all for the use of service animals and allowing for issues relating to the ADA, but this guy is only using them when he wants something or its convenient for him.

You must be just the kind of sourpuss not supporting our great OBAMA....

ed34145 writes:

Welcome to Marco Island, home of the nasty dinosaurs.

seasonala writes:

It is a concern if dog is defecating where it should not be. This may be due to service dog not being exercised properly. Neighbors could help by taking dog for a walk, bringing it to an area where it could comfortably defecate and clean up. Maybe they would all see it is a simple solution.

mur224 writes:

in response to RayPray:

You must be just the kind of sourpuss not supporting our great OBAMA....

My response has nothing to do with who I support or political affiliation. It is what I have witnessed with him, watched his actions on several occasions, and listened to what he says about his "limitations".

RayPray writes:

in response to GorchFock:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I disagree.

To me, disabled Larry exactly embodies the Great OBAMA's reelection theme of compassionate excellence.

I wouldn't be surprised if the great OBAMA temporarily suspends his campaign this week in order to get both Larry & Fido on Food Stamps....

26yearsonmarco writes:

in response to seasonala:

It is a concern if dog is defecating where it should not be. This may be due to service dog not being exercised properly. Neighbors could help by taking dog for a walk, bringing it to an area where it could comfortably defecate and clean up. Maybe they would all see it is a simple solution.

I'm going to guess your comment will be the only one that makes any sense, by encouraging people to work together, instead of turning the issue into a massive law suit, that attorneys live on.

Unfortunately, in Condo Life, only ten percent, or less, rule the roost, and do not mind spending the ninety percent’s money.

marcoislander writes:

Let him abide by the condo rules. Let him move. Sounds to me he just wants attention

RayNetherwood writes:

ADA is over reaching and often abused. Well intended, now being misused ... on airplanes, with access into older buildings, and parking ... this case sounds like a twisting of the ADA. Y

Mr McKay would probably enjoy increased mobility and not need a "service dog" if height and weight were appropriate. Whole US disability system is broken.

Pursuit writes:

Marco Biker has it nailed nuff said

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