MARQUETTE - A housing investigator from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights was in Marquette Friday, helping to inform housing providers and business owners on provisions in the law allowing the use of service animals.
A session was held at the Superior Alliance for Independent Living office and attended by several individuals including representatives of Orianna Ridge, the Marquette Housing Commission and St. Vincent de Paul.
Janice Peterson, a systems change advocate with SAIL, said Amy MacDonald, a civil rights housing investigator, was invited to talk about the rights of renters, landlords, housing officials and business owners regarding the use of service animals.
Amy MacDonald, left, a civil rights housing investigator with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, and Janice Peterson, a systems change advocate with the Superior Alliance for Independent Living, talk Friday about the rights of renters, landlords, housing officials and business owners regarding the use of service animals. (Journal photo by John Pepin)
"She's actually working on a few cases with landlords," Peterson said. "She is here to educate the service providers ... to educate them on the requirements of the laws of the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act and that yes, landlords do have to accommodate people who have been medically prescribed either an emotional support animal or a service animal."
MacDonald told the group there has been a sizable increase in the number of service animal questions, concerns and complaints from the Upper Peninsula.
Sharon Kivikko, executive director of the Marquette Housing Commission, said she came to the session to learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act and tenants rights related to disabilities, accessibility and accommodations.
"It's a very significant issue in this area," Kivikko said. "I don't think there's enough rental housing that is accessible to people with disabilities."
Kivikko said the commission's Pine Ridge Apartments has 140 units -including four one-bedroom and one two-bedroom units recently rehabilitated to accommodate those with disabilities- all of which allow service animals.
"We have a lot of animals in the building," Kivikko said. "Its fun to go to work and pet a lot of kitties and puppies."
In addition to housing, under the law, businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go.
There are some limits on the use of service animals. A person can be asked to remove a service animal from the premises if the animal is out of control and the owner does not take action to control the animal or the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
One business representative said it's not always easy to distinguish between service animals and people just bringing pets into a store.
Peterson described the difference between therapy animals, emotional support animals and service animals, which include dogs and shetland ponies.
"The service animal is specifically trained to do a task, and need to meet a higher criteria," Peterson said. "The emotional support animal does not necessarily need to be trained, but would live in housing with somebody and the therapy animal is the animals that are trained to go to hospitals and nursing homes and they are also at the library for kids to read to and they just work part-time."
There are many uses for service animals including inspiring confidence in military veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, opening doors for someone who uses a wheelchair or picking up remote control devices in the home.
"A service animal could be any kind of dog, it doesn't have to be a golden retriever or a Labrador retriever, which you often see for the seeing eye dog," Peterson said. "It can be any dog individually trained, and some of the tasks they perform: they can be a hearing alert dog, they can be a seeing eye dog. There's a specialty too on seizure alert dogs."
One woman at the SAIL office Friday said her Siberian husky helps her get outdoors every day.
"If I don't have him, I just can't function without him," she said. "I can't get out. It just helps me."
Peterson said service or emotional support animals are prescribed by health professionals to help with physical and psychological issues.
"It can be a matter of life or death," Peterson said. "If someone has severe depression and they have a dog it can make all the difference in the world, which is a little dramatic, but it's absolutely true."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.