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Strata pushed grieving B.C. couple to ditch therapy dog for being 13 cm too tall

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A B.C. couple can keep a therapy dog that's helped them cope with the loss of their grandson, despite pressure from their strata to ditch the animal for being too big.

The dog owners took the dispute to the province's small claims tribunal, which found that while the animal surpasses the maximum size allowed by their strata's pet bylaw, the enforcement of that rule has been inconsistent and "significantly unfair."

The Civil Resolution Tribunal heard the couple moved into their home in February 2021, and by the end of the following month, five of their neighbours had complained to the strata about their dog's size.

The strata's bylaws only allow one pet per unit, and prohibits those that grow taller than 15 inches (about 38 cm) at the "withers," or the highest point on its shoulder blades.

The couple told the tribunal they were aware of the height bylaw when they purchased their property, but that their dog – named Mel – was smaller at the time. They asked the strata for an exception, but were denied.

"They said Mel was an integral part of their family," tribunal member Leah Volkers wrote in her decision.

"The also referred to a letter from their doctor and asked the strata to allow them to keep Mel because they lost their grandson, they are prone to depression, and they are not able to move due to those events and their age."

Prior to their request, the couple was asked to establish Mel's height, which they did by visiting an animal hospital in Tsawwassen. The dog was determined to be 20 inches tall (about 51 cm) at the withers.

Along with the measurements, the couple submitted a letter asking for leniency.

"(The couple) asked the strata to accommodate them by allowing Mel to stay in their strata lot due to, in part, their mental health issues," Volkers wrote.

While the couple didn't specifically reference B.C.'s Human Rights Code, the tribunal found their request could have triggered those protections – but Volkers found the issue was moot anyway.

A November 2018 email from the strata's manager showed there had been a previous exception for another owner's over-height dog, who was allowed to stay provided the animal only used the garage ramp to enter and exit the property.

That dog was measured at 15.9 inches tall at the withers.

"In the absence of any meaningful explanation for why some over-height dogs were allowed to stay in the strata and not others, I find there are no reasonable grounds for the strata's decision to require the (couple) to remove Mel," Volkers wrote, finding the strata's actions "significantly unfair."

The strata was also ordered to reimburse the couple's fees for filing a dispute with the tribunal, which came to $225.

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