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Council OKs law barring discrimination against owners of therapy dogs

It is now illegal to refuse housing in Buffalo to someone because they have a therapy dog or cat living with them.

Mayor Byron W. Brown and the Common Council Tuesday amended the city’s anti-discrimination law to include “reliance upon a therapy dog or cat” as a protected class that cannot be discriminated against in terms of housing sales or rentals.

“This is very important. It’s huge,” said Chris Kreiger, president and co-founder of WNY Heroes, an organization that supports veterans and their families. “Hopefully, this will stop landlords from discriminating.”

Delaware District Councilman Joel P. Feroleto, who sponsored the amendment, said he became familiar with the issue while working as a private attorney, prior to joining the Council. He convened a meeting at the time, with representatives of WNY Heroes; Housing Opportunities Made Equal, a Buffalo-based fair housing agency; and State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo.

During that meeting, the group talked about instances when veterans and others were denied housing because of their therapy animals.

Kennedy introduced state legislation expected to be voted upon in the upcoming session addressing the issue for statewide for veterans.

Since being named to the Council in September, Feroleto has been working on a city law.

The city law covers individuals with physical as well as mental or medical impairment who have a service dog or cat. It is intended to cover individuals who are blind or hearing impaired, for example, as well as those prescribed service dogs to help with mental health issues, such as post traumatic stress disorder. There are veterans suffering from PTSD who have been prescribed service dogs to help with their disorder, then denied housing because of a landlord who says pets are not permitted, Kreiger. “These are not pets,” Kreiger said. “They are service animals.”

Feroleto’s amendment was introduced into the Council last week and approved Tuesday under an expedited process that bypasses having to send a measure to Council committee for discussion prior to a vote. The process, however, requires support from the mayor and two-thirds of Council members before it can be introduced under the expedited procedure.

“I wanted this to be a law immediately because it is so important,” Feroleto said.