Pit Bulls as Assistance Animals: A Manager's Perspective

Posted by Stephen Marshall on


Philosopher John Stuart Mill famously said that landlords “grow rich in their sleep, without working, risking, or economizing”. While it’s debatable whether that was true in Mill’s day, the “without risking” portion of Mill’s quote is certainly false today. My blog posts on Kentucky’s strict liability standard for landlords in dog-bite cases alone should make that clear. However, when you combine broad liability for dog bites with the dramatic increase in tenants with Assistance Animals, landlords often feel like they’re darned if they do and darned if they don’t. When you add in the fact that many Assistance Animals are often dogs that are traditionally considered “dangerous breeds”, it’s enough to make some landlords put their properties on the market and get out of the business altogether.

Although there is little doubt that this is the riskiest time in history to own rental property, a balanced perspective is needed. While I know that landlords and property managers cringe when their tenant’s Assistance Animal is a Pit Bull, Chow, or Rottweiler, here’s a reminder from one of our own that these dogs often play a vital role in the life of tenants with disabilities. Kathy Johnson is the Property Manager at The Wellington in Lexington, Kentucky; here’s her story:

I’ve been in the Property Management industry for seven years, I live in an apartment, and I have a pit bull. You may be thinking, “how dare a property manager break her lease!” I am by no means violating by my rental agreement. My pit bull, Sadie, is the companion animal for my non-verbal, autistic daughter. Sadie has been in our lives for the past couple of months. She needed a home and some care, and I felt my daughter would benefit from having a companion animal. Has she benefited? Yes! Sadie meets us at the door when we come home, she follows my daughter to “her spot” on the sofa and sits with her. Sadie follows her wherever she goes, watches her during bath time, sits by her bed when I get her ready; she is just a loyal animal. Not only has my daughter benefited, but Sadie has as well. She has multiple kiddos and adults at our property that love to give her treats, pet her, walk her, rub her belly…..she’s very loved.

Now, as for the residents on the property, some give me dirty looks while I walk her, some tell me how beautiful she is, some pet her, and the rest could care less. She has never once attacked another dog, but she does try to climb trees to get to the squirrels. I’ve even had a vendor who entered my apartment report that I have a pit bull. No worries because the office is aware I have her!

For the most part, life with Sadie has been quite enjoyable. But, there is a downfall……it is an apartment and she is a rambunctious lady. I think it is fair to say that it is hard for any larger dog to be cooped up in an apartment. I go home and let her out as much as possible and I also have help from some of my neighbors. But, I think she deserves a yard where she can run freely and get her energy and restlessness out. She’s even put on a little weight since I got her.

So, would I recommend a pit bull as a service animal? Yes, as long as you are able to provide adequate time for it. I firmly believe that any dog’s attitude, aggression, and temperament is due to how it is raised and taught. My daughter and I have been around friends’ pits and pit mixes for years, and not once have I ever felt threatened or worried for our safety. However, that is not the case with my Dad’s Chihuahua!

I wanted Kathy to share her experience to cut through the cynicism that is so easily developed in our industry. Our experiences with bad tenants who are trying to beat the system tempts us to overlook or even misjudge the tenants who are simply trying to provide a higher quality of life for themselves or family members with disabilities. We must always be mindful of both. We cannot be naive, because the scammers exist. But because Kathy's story is not the only one of its sort, we also cannot be cynical to the real assistance that certain animals bring to such tenants.  

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