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Amherst homeless shelter wrestles with definition of service dog

  • Amherst's homeless shelter managers are working to determine whether it is OK for Christy McNerney to keep her therapy dog Scruffles with her at Craig's Place.

    Amherst's homeless shelter managers are working to determine whether it is OK for Christy McNerney to keep her therapy dog Scruffles with her at Craig's Place. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Christy McNerney, a homeless woman, says she doesn't know what she will do if she cannot keep her therapy dog, Scruffles, with her at Craig's Place shelter at First Baptist Church in Amherst.

    Christy McNerney, a homeless woman, says she doesn't know what she will do if she cannot keep her therapy dog, Scruffles, with her at Craig's Place shelter at First Baptist Church in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Christy McNerney, who is homeless must eat in the hallway as Scuffles, her  therapy dog, is not allowed in the shelter's dining area.<br/>JERRY ROBERTS

    Christy McNerney, who is homeless must eat in the hallway as Scuffles, her therapy dog, is not allowed in the shelter's dining area.
    JERRY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Christy McNerney, a homeless woman, holds Scruffles, her cock-a-chon therapy dog, beside her boyfriend, Christopher Royster, Monday at Craig's Place, a cot shelter in First Baptist Church in Amherst.

    Christy McNerney, a homeless woman, holds Scruffles, her cock-a-chon therapy dog, beside her boyfriend, Christopher Royster, Monday at Craig's Place, a cot shelter in First Baptist Church in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Christy McNerney, a homeless woman, says she doesn't know what she will do if she cannot keep her therapy dog, Scruffles, with her at Craig's Place shelter at First Baptist Church in Amherst.

    Christy McNerney, a homeless woman, says she doesn't know what she will do if she cannot keep her therapy dog, Scruffles, with her at Craig's Place shelter at First Baptist Church in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst's homeless shelter managers are working to determine whether it is OK for Christy McNerney to keep her therapy dog Scruffles with her at Craig's Place.
  • Christy McNerney, a homeless woman, says she doesn't know what she will do if she cannot keep her therapy dog, Scruffles, with her at Craig's Place shelter at First Baptist Church in Amherst.
  • Christy McNerney, who is homeless must eat in the hallway as Scuffles, her  therapy dog, is not allowed in the shelter's dining area.<br/>JERRY ROBERTS
  • Christy McNerney, a homeless woman, holds Scruffles, her cock-a-chon therapy dog, beside her boyfriend, Christopher Royster, Monday at Craig's Place, a cot shelter in First Baptist Church in Amherst.
  • Christy McNerney, a homeless woman, says she doesn't know what she will do if she cannot keep her therapy dog, Scruffles, with her at Craig's Place shelter at First Baptist Church in Amherst.

Scruffles is the first nonhuman guest to stay overnight at Amherst’s homeless shelter.

But officials with Craig’s Doors, the agency that runs the Craig’s Place shelter at the First Baptist Church, are trying to determine whether they are doing the right thing by lodging a dog that its owners consider a service animal, but which others may deem a pet.

Kevin Noonan, executive director of Craig’s Doors, said the agency wants to follow the law and is seeking assistance in ensuring it is doing that.

Christy McNerney, who owns the cockashon mix, said a psychotherapist suggested she get Scruffles for emotional support. She said she is concerned that if she is denied the right to keep the 9-pound dog beneath her cot at the shelter, she will be forced to spend her nights in the woods or on streets.

“I don’t think I should be sleeping outside in the winter because he’s a service animal,” she said.

McNerney and her partner, Christopher Royster, have been homeless in the Amherst area for two years. She has sometimes given the dog to her sister to care for, but she says she needs the animal by her side.

Royster said he doubts that anyone would raise concerns if a guide dog were brought into the shelter. McNerney’s dog should be treated the same way, he said.

“No one should be discriminated against.”

Rebekah Wilder, director of Craig’s Place, said guide dogs are trained and certified, but there are more questions surrounding the therapy dog that need to be answered.

Noonan said many of the people served at the shelter are a more fragile population, and the dog could potentially disturb them.

“My concern is other people might be afraid of it,” Noonan said. “The fact they have a dog doesn’t bother us. We’ll respect the law, whatever it is.”

So far, Wilder said the dog has been well-behaved and hasn’t caused any problems, such as barking. It is not allowed into the area where guests eat dinner, so McNerney eats out in the hallway with Scruffles. With additional space this year, which includes a separate room for women, she said the dog should not be in the way.

McNerney said she understands the homeless shelter can’t be accommodating to other homeless people who might bring pets but insists Scruffles falls into a different category.

“I’m not asking them to be an animal shelter or a kennel for me,” she said.

Comments
Legacy Comments3

First off it is illegal for any business to demand legal documention. It is legal for them to ask you "Is This a Pet" and you can answer "no it is not" or "yes it is" and if a business person does not have to produce paperwork to confirm if it is or is not. The handler of the animal canand should say "he is a service animal' and the business can then ask " what service the animal provides for them" and can't demand to see paperwork. Also in McNerney defense or to anyone else defense in this situation the "psychotherapist" prescribing the animal has therigh "to legally add in limitations for thir clients needs" which differs in different cases. Also there are classes in which a person can use to get therapeutic animal certified. So to suggest that Ms McNerney does not have rights under ADA is false when infact a licensed " psychotherapist" can and stipulationsad limitations to meet is clients needs. I also do not think any person here should yse these email address as a form of contacting these people with ill intentions only to help them but not to harass.

If it is a "service dog" making her sit in the hallway to eat is a big no-no. You can not segregated a person with a service dog, it is decimation under the ADA. Emotional support dogs are not covered by the ADA but they are covered under the fair housing act. Under the ADA if it is a "service dog" you can not ask for I.D, training certifies or Dr letters. They can take their chances and say no. Then she can report them to the commission on human rights, fair housing acted or the ADA. Also, from what Mrs. McNerney says it is not a "service dog" it is a "emotional support dog". She still would be covered by the fair housing acted as homeless shelters do fall under the fair housing act. Now, under the fair housing acted I do believe you can ask for a letter, for a reasonable accommodation and that can include a Dr's light description of the need of the "emotional support dog" which should not be a problem if the Dr's recommended the dog in the first place.

If you would like to contact Christy McNerney or Christopher Royster in regards to this article please email mcnerneychristy@yahoo.com or chris-oyster@hotmail.com also the shelter has a copy of legal documentation from Ms McNerney's counselor who prescribed the :emotional support animal" to her keep this in mind the article did not mention this. Both are infact homeless and local panhandlers of the area outside of "Chili's on Rte 9" where they can also be found for contact.

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