Life-saving service dog not welcome at some Saint John apartments

·6 min read
Cody Richards with his service dog Alder at the foot of the City Market in Saint John.  (Mia Urquhart/CBC - image credit)
Cody Richards with his service dog Alder at the foot of the City Market in Saint John. (Mia Urquhart/CBC - image credit)

If it weren't for his service dog, Alder, Cody Richards says he would be in a special care home.

Saint John man was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. He also has severe epilepsy that causes life-threatening seizures.

Alder can call for help when Richards experiences grand mal seizures. He also lies on top of him during the episodes to try to prevent Richards from hurting himself.

Richards said Alder has saved his life more than once.

"I don't know what I'd do without him," said the 27-year-old.

Richards also uses a wheelchair, so Alder helps him with daily activities. He opens doors, turns lights on and off, picks up dropped items, grabs laundry out of the dryer. He can even open the fridge door and retrieve items on command.

Alder the service dog awaits instructions from his master, Cody Richards.
Alder the service dog awaits instructions from his master, Cody Richards. (Mia Urquhart/CBC)

But even with Alder's constant help, Richards's, doctors say, it's dangerous for him to live alone. So his mother is moving back to Saint John from Miramichi to care for him.

Together, they've been looking for a two-bedroom apartment.

Heather Richards-Dalling estimated that she's looked into at least 30 apartments. She said 90 per cent of them have outright said no dogs allowed. The others were unsuitable because of her son's wheelchair.

"I've been contacting any and every ad that I see about apartments that suit our needs with me moving in with him," said Richards-Dalling.

If everything else suits their situation and Richards's wheelchair, "the no-dog issue comes up," she said.

"I'm pissed off because my son has a right to have his life," said Richards-Daling.

She's even challenged some of them about discriminating against them because of Alder, a service dog certified through the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.

Richards-Dalling provided some names and emails to CBC News. Two of those who said they would not rent to someone with a dog were with Killam Apartment REIT, a Halifax-based residential landlord.

Chris French, an on-site resident manager with the company, said Richards-Dalling likely spoke to someone who didn't understand the exceptions made for service dogs.

When reached by phone on Monday, French said the company is well aware of the rules and invited Richards-Dalling to contact him directly.

Heather Richards-Dalling with her son, Cody Richards.
Heather Richards-Dalling with her son, Cody Richards. (Submitted by Heather Richards-Dalling)

Another man, who identified himself in an online ad as the owner of 10 Woodhollow Park in Saint John, was less apologetic. "Jack," who wouldn't give his last name when contacted by CBC, said "our building is without dogs and that's it."

He said Richards-Dalling could to take him to court and then hung up the phone.

An earlier call to the same telephone number was answered by Olly, who described herself as Jack's wife. When asked if she was aware that it was against the law to refuse to rent to someone with a service dog, she said, "I am not aware of that. No one ever told me about that before."

A property search of 10 Woodhollow Park, which is separate from similar-looking buildings in Woodhollow Park, revealed that the 48-unit apartment building is owned by Melrim Properties, the director of which is listed as Yacov Melech. whose LinkedIn profile uses the name "Jack."

What the law says

The province's Guideline on Accommodating People with Service Animals says that renters cannot discriminate against someone because of their service animal.

It states, "Under New Brunswick human rights law, a housing provider cannot:

  • Refuse to rent or sell to a person who relies on a service animal.

  • Apply a no pets policy to service animals.

  • Deny a prospective tenant or purchaser an opportunity to view a unit because the person relies on a service animal.

  • Permit only service animals that have been registered or certified.

  • Permit the harassment of a person based on his or her reliance on a service animal.

  • Prevent a person relying on a service animal from accessing common areas customarily available to other tenants or residents."

The Human Rights Commission of New Brunswick provided this comment on the issue: "The New Brunswick Human Rights Act protects citizens against discrimination on the basis of reliance on a service animal for a physical and/or mental disability in the areas of employment, public services and facilities, and housing.

"If someone feels they are discriminated against or they have concerns about the practices of a service provider, then they should contact the Commission and speak with one of our intake officers."

Alder is a 6½-year-old yellow Labrador retriever trained to call for help when his master has a seizure.
Alder is a 6½-year-old yellow Labrador retriever trained to call for help when his master has a seizure. (Mia Urquhart/CBC )

Richards-Dalling said she understands the reluctance of property owners and managers to rent to service dogs "because if you allow this dog, then everyone else will say, 'Well, you let that dog …'"

She is sympathetic to those with "emotional support animals."

"I don't want to offend anyone, but it's not the same," said Richards-Dalling.

In fact, she has one herself — a dog that she will have to re-home when she moves to Saint John. She said Alder is in a completely different category.

Richards got Alder almost three years. Alder was fully trained at the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides centre in Oakville, Ont. Richards then spent three months at the centre, learning what Alder already knew.

One of his most important jobs is calling for help when Richards has a seizure. They sometimes come on pretty fast, and Richards doesn't always have time to react and press a button to call for help. If Richards loses consciousness, Alder presses a button on a box on the floor.

Alder is a certified service dog through the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.
Alder is a certified service dog through the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides. (Cody Richards/Facebook)

Alder can also press the button on command if Richards is still conscious and unable to do so.

"It wasn't too long ago that I had two big grand mal seizures," explained Richards.

Alder pressed the button and then jumped on top of Richards, "and he laid on top of me, trying to hold me down from hurting myself or falling off the bed."

He was still lying on Richards when the paramedics arrived.

Another time, Richards had a seizure in the shower and didn't have time to get out of the tub before losing consciousness. He said Alder managed to pull his head away from stream of water, and then he pushed the lifeline button to call for help.

"He has changed my life big, big time, because I don't think I'd be able to live on my own and be independent without him," said Richards.

"I don't know what I'd do without him."