Service dog removed from home because it’s too fat

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled that National Service Dogs (NSD) didn’t discriminate against a girl with autism spectrum disorder after the non-profit organization removed one of its dogs from the family home.

According to litigation documents, since 2018, the service dog, Sammy, had been living as a companion animal with the Mississauga, Ontario family. He was removed from the family home on March 28, 2022, after the NSD noted that he had gained a substantial amount of weight and suffered health issues. The family, however, alleged discrimination with respect to services “because of disability” and that the NSD failed to accommodate the young girl as a minor living with autism.

The NSD denied allegations of discrimination, stating that they notified the applicant’s family “repeatedly” to exercise the dog, reduce its food, and monitor its weight.

“[T]he dog weighed 53.2 kg on February 25, 2019[,] which translates to 117.2 pounds, and 58 kg in July 2019[,] which translates to 127.8 pounds,” adjudicator Romona Gananathan wrote in her April 19 statement. She added that the NSD’s decision to remove Sammy from the home was “reasonable after several years of engaging” with the family to properly feed, arrange play dates, and walk Sammy.

“Given the dog was about 83 pounds when placed with the family, I find it reasonable that the respondent had concerns about the dog’s weight given the nearly 45 pound weight gain in a time period of less than one year,” Gananathan wrote.

Further clinical notes indicate that Sammy lost some weight at times but remained significantly overweight over a long period. For example, he weighed close to 105 pounds in November 2019, 103 pounds in February 2020, and nearly 101 pounds in March 2020.

Gananathan found that the applicant’s disability was never a factor in the NSD’s decision to remove Sammy or retire him from service. She presented an email that the NSD sent to the family dated May 3, 2022, which confirms that the decision to retire Sammy from service was made only after he was removed from the home, based on his health and the family’s ability to care for him.

The email states that Sammy had some X-rays done to assess his orthopaedic health, and he had several issues, including M1-flattened femoral heads with reduced acetabular coverage, M1-thickened femoral necks, mild hip dysplasia, M1 compression of the infrapatellar fat pad, and bridging spondylosis along the spine (the thorax and lumbar regions).

Since Sammy was taken from the family, the NSD noted that he had lost 7.5 lbs and was working toward his goal.

“Given the results and in consultation with our animal health professionals we have determined that it is in Sammy’s best interests to be retired from service,” the May 3 email stated.

“The spondylosis is degenerative and will be exacerbated by the repetitive stress of any lateral pressure put on him when he is required to “halt” when tethered. Additionally, obesity has a profound negative impact on all of the issues listed above. It will be crucial to his long-term health that his weight be reduced back to where it was at time of deployment and maintained for the remainder of his life. We understand that you and the children are very attached to Sammy but given the requirements of his ongoing care and exercise needs, we will not be returning him to your family.”

Gananathan stated that the NSD “had a contract to provide the service animal with express expectations around its care” and the applicant’s family understood that the NSD could remove the service animal if it had concerns about its health. She added that the applicant’s family could have followed the suggestions for feeding and dog walking and could have hired a dog walker if they didn’t have time to walk the dog themselves.

“The applicant’s family knew Sammy was overweight. The animal deserves to be healthy and able to work and it was not,” Gananathan said, before concluding that the applicant had not met the onus of proving a prima facie case of discrimination, and “has not been able to show that the [NSD] failed to accommodate her disability” in providing services.

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