SIDE STREETS: HOA grants disabled woman fenced yard for service dog

October 26, 2012
photo - Claire Farrer and her service dog Phoenix.   Photo by Courtesy photo
Claire Farrer and her service dog Phoenix. Photo by Courtesy photo 

Claire Farrer and her companion, Phoenix, were jumping with delight.

Actually, only Phoenix was actually jumping, as you’d expect of a young, excitable dog.

Claire was simply delighted. Due to a disease that caused the discs in her spine to collapse, Claire struggles to stand and walk. Jumping is out of the question.

The reason for their celebration late last week?

Crews had just finished installing a large fence around most of her backyard in her home in the Retreat at Rockrimmon, a gated community of 67 homes. Phoenix was happy to be free to run. No more would he be tethered when outdoors. He can stretch his long legs and romp across the grass, tossing and fetching his own ball.

And Claire was happy she doesn’t have to worry about falling as the 75 pound service dog gets a little exercise.

“I’m joyous,” Claire told me. “I don’t know who is happier, me or Phoenix.”

Why would a 75-year-old retired anthropology professor be so thrilled about a backyard fence?

Because of the struggle it took to convince her homeowners association to allow it to be installed.

I introduced you to Claire in August after she called me desperate for help.

At the time, Claire was waiting for Phoenix, a large poodle, to complete his advanced training. And she was frantic because the HOA had denied her request for a fenced area behind her house large enough to allow Phoenix to stretch and run.

I spoke to specialist Sandy Miller, a regional director at Paw Pals Assistance Dogs, which breeds and trains dogs to help folks like Claire who suffer disabilities.

Miller said Phoenix needed a large space to exercise each day. A small, rocky area proposed by the HOA was inadequate and would hurt the dog’s paws. Without exercise, Miller worried Phoenix would not perform well for Claire, lifting her when she falls, sensing when she’s unsteady and doing other things like opening doors.

At the time, I called HOA president Tom Montgomery, who insisted the board had tried to accommodate Claire by approving a small fenced area. He said neighborhood covenants prevented a larger area as she requested.

“She wants what she wants and isn’t interested in compromising,” he said.

After my column aired the dispute, attorney Stephen Koerner of Colorado Legal Services took up Claire’s cause. Volunteering his time, Koerner convinced the HOA to bend its rules to allow the fence. He even got the HOA to remove the large rock within the fence and replace it with paw-friendly pea gravel.

“Thank God for Steve and Colorado Legal Services,” she said. “He really turned the tide.”

 It wasn’t a total victory for Claire. She had to compromise from her original request. The fence is not as deep as she’d like. And it doesn’t look quite as she proposed.

“I gave up some grassy area and moved the fence in from a sprinkler control box,” she said. “And they made me sign an agreement that I’d remove the fence if I move. They haven’t required anyone else in the neighborhood to remove a fence. But I wanted to get this over with.”

And not a day too soon.

After the rain and snow started last week, Claire was grateful she didn’t have to risk the slippery conditions of her back deck to take Phoenix out.

“I’m so glad I don’t have to try to walk him in this weather,” she said.

And she’s glad all the drama is behind her, allowing her to concentrate on more important things, like figuring out how to keep Phoenix from climbing in her bed at night.

“He’s fantastic,” she said. “It’s wonderful. I’m grateful to have the dog. And I’m very grateful he seems to be bonding with me. All is good.”

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