Disabled man suing to keep “assistance cats”

08/21/2014 1:30 PM

08/21/2014 1:32 PM

A Benbrook man who has been disabled since birth says he cannot live without his two “assistance cats” and has gone to court to keep them.

Gary Coleman, 45, uses a walker and has spina bifida as well as a serious lung condition. He said he was told earlier this month by management at Mirabella Assisted Living in Benbrook that a “no pets” policy had been enacted for tenants who share an apartment.

Ultimately, he was told to find another home for the cats, Rex, 12, and Milo, 8 — or move out, Coleman said.

“Rex and Milo are not pets; they are therapy animals and they are my family,” he said. “I have no family. I have no mother or father. My cats provide something that no family has ever given to me and that is emotional support.”

Coleman, who has lived at Mirabella since 2012, according to the lawsuit, said he received a letter Aug. 1 of this year saying he needed to get rid of the cats by Aug. 10.

A court petition filed Monday says he pleaded with management to exempt Rex and Milo from the new policy, to no avail. He said he got a reminder letter on Aug. 7 and then a letter Aug. 11 saying his lease was being terminated, and he needed to move out by Sept. 11.

Coleman is suing Mirabella, along with its director and parent company Segora Corp., alleging that management violated the Texas Fair Housing Act the Fort Worth City Code and the Texas Property code.

Refusal to make a “reasonable accommodation” for the animals constitutes unlawful discrimination under the Housing Act and the City Code, the lawsuit says. It says Mirabella “retaliated again him by terminating his lease,” which violates the Texas Property Code.

Coleman also says the Mirabella is violating his lease, which he said allows the cats.

Bryan McCaleb, president of Sagora Senior living in Fort Worth said in a news release that management has “attempted to make contact with Coleman and his attorney to resolve the situation:

“We have reviewed all of the files and documentation and we do not have any documentation on the resident’s two cats being certified as therapy animals. We have requested from the resident, their legal counsel and Power of Attorney to provide us with the certified animal documentation which has not been provided as of today [Aug. 20].”

Randy Turner, an attorney representing Coleman, said he provided information from Coleman’s psychologist documenting the need for the therapy cats and added that Rex and Milo don’t have to be certified as therapy animals.

“Mirabella simply does not understand the Fair Housing Act or the law on assistance animals,” he said. “There is no such thing as a certified therapy animal and the law does not require that an animal be certified in any way before a landlord must provide accommodations.”

Turner also said that under the Fair Housing Act a landlord must provide a “reasonable accommodation” in order to not discriminate against a disabled person who relies on an animal for emotional support. The law doesn’t address situations in which someone must share an apartment, he said.

Although the cats would be permitted in a private apartment, Coleman can’t afford one, Turner said. He receives $644 a month in Supplemental Security Insurance payments, and pays $630 a month for rent and meals at Mirabella.

Rex also has special needs, as he was diagnosed with diabetes about a month ago. Coleman said he gives the cat insulin twice a day and tests his blood sugar.

The insulin costs more than $200, and Rex must also have special food. Coleman said he is getting donations to cover the medical costs of caring for Rex. Milo doesn’t have health issues.

Both cats are Coleman’s constant companions, and he is always with them except when he must leave his apartment, he said.

“There is no way that I can function on a daily basis without my cats. I go to sleep every night and wake up every morning, and they are right beside me. I see them lying there,and I give them treats and a big hug.”

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