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The bizarre case of the seeing-eye dog

Here’s a little news story that borders on the barbaric.

RÚV had a report this weekend about a woman in Akranes [southwest Iceland] whose neighbour is insisting that she get rid of her guide dog. The woman lives in an apartment building, and according to Icelandic law everyone in the building needs to be in agreement if permission is to be granted for someone to keep a dog or cat.

The woman has had severely restricted vision and hearing since birth, and moreover suffers from a lack of balance since having a brain tumor removed. Three years ago she obtained permission from all her neighbours to keep the dog; however, now someone new has moved into the building and wants the dog gone. The woman is unable to sell her apartment and indeed has very limited resources to move at all.

There are a few things about this story that boggle the mind. First and most obviously, that anyone could be so heartless as to insist on a seeing-eye dog being removed from a building. Secondly, why Icelandic laws don’t make exceptions for seeing-eye dogs in situations like this. If I’m not mistaken, that is the case in other countries where I have lived [at least in Canada] — guide dogs aren’t considered “pets” in the strictest sense of the word and are allowed to go where “regular” dogs are not. Third, why the law — if it has to be this way — doesn’t stipulate that, once the permission for a pet has been granted, it cannot be revoked. [To be honest, I was under the impression that this was the case.]

The upside of this story is that the woman’s plight has received an outpouring of support from the general public. Most of the Icelandic media has covered it in one form or another, and a Facebook support group established yesterday already has around 6,500 members in it.

The housing collective* in the woman’s building allegedly held a meeting about the matter yesterday, but she’s not yet heard whether or not she is allowed to keep the dog. Incredible that one freaking neighbour should be able to wield such power over someone’s life.

* Not sure what the English word is for húsfélag — the group of property owners that meet to make decisions on the collective property, etc. Anyone?

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  • Lissa July 13, 2010, 2:03 pm

    I think that this is what would be called a co-op in English (at least in the USian version) or a condo. My friends who live in these talk about co-op meetings or condo committee meetings.

    Service dogs should be exempted. This is a working animal, not a pet.

  • ari July 13, 2010, 2:07 pm

    Housing co-operative… in the US anyway

  • alda July 13, 2010, 2:12 pm

    I thought housing co-operative was for people who were renting in a co-op … am I wrong on that? If people own their own apartments, would that be a condo committee as Lissa suggests, as opposed to a housing co-operative?

  • One Two Three July 13, 2010, 2:49 pm

    condo vs. Co-op Apartment: The N.Y.C. Apartment Question
    http://www.ny-condos.com/condo-coop.html

    Co-ops, almost always in New York City, allow the corporation to control who can live in the building and what they can do. The reason for rejecting someone, if there was a reason, need not be revealed so all reasons legal, illegal, racist, or reasonable are acceptable. The most common reasons for rejection are you do not have/earn enough money to live there, you or your children look like you will be entertaining in the apartment, or being of Icelandic heritage.

    I think the example you give in Iceland does not apply as it is a statutory right so it does not appear to have anything to do with the form of ownership.

    If annoying neighbors is a problem in Iceland you might import the Co-op concept and create entire buildings free of such people. I offer this wonderful bit of New York City culture free of charge to the people of Iceland.

  • Amy Clifton July 13, 2010, 2:56 pm

    I believe it would be called either the condo association or owners association or condo owners association.

  • Elisabeth July 13, 2010, 2:56 pm

    Co-op has a set meaning in American English that is much more specific than I think is meant here in terms of how duties and dues are allocated and also that co-ops have to approve everyone that moves in, which is not at all what is meant here. If you say it is a co-op, then it seems reasonable they could veto a dog (kind of), but this is not a co-op, this is just a group of people who happen to have all bought into the same property, without any centralized application process to one co-op committee. Home Owners Association is a much more general term that covers everything from neighborhoods to condos to apartment complexes, although that is usually a representative group rather than everyone. I would call it a Home Owners meeting, especially if it is not a regular meeting but one called for a specific purpose, or Resident meeting.

  • Chris July 13, 2010, 3:10 pm

    Not to get too far on a tangent, but I recall some related information from when my father bought the apartment that he had been renting when the owners sold the building.

    In the US (and possibly particular to the state in the US my father lived in), there were two options when the occupants of the apartments bought the building: to purchase the building as a group, or to each purchase the individual apartments. In the case of the group purchasing the building as a whole, it was a cooperative; the latter, where each simply owned their own apartment, it would be handled as condominiums. Legally there were differences, and financially it was a bit easier to go the co-op route, so that’s what they did. (On the other end of it, however, selling the building then had to be handled as a whole since the legal entity comprised of the four individual owners did not own pieces of the building individually, but only the whole building as a single entity.) In either way, they were all owners, but the specifics of the legal association of the owners differed between the two types of ownership.

    And there are all sorts of names for various similar types of organizations that deal with those kinds of things. I’ve heard of condo associations and condo committees and co-op associations and groups. And then there are related but different entities like homeowners associations for places like developments where it’s not a single building but a whole development (where a company buys up a bunch of land and builds a lot of houses but doesn’t relinquish all of the control over the property but instead has something like a small fiefdom and provide various services like trash and snow removal in exchange for fees.)

    Ah, the joys of home ownership.

  • JB in San Diego July 13, 2010, 3:19 pm

    +1 Amy: I think condo owners association is the right term.

  • Elisabeth July 13, 2010, 3:27 pm

    Well the weird thing is here with this dog law is that it completely ignores these sorts of distinctions. I think basically if your domicile shares a wall with anyone else, you need their permission to have a dog. So like where I live, Keilir owns many rental units, but I do not apply to Keilir for permission to have a dog. I have to get the people whose apartments lie under the same roof as me to sign off on the idea that I have a dog. There is no “body” to apply to for appeal or anything. It is a very casual practice that they wrote down and called a law.

  • kevin oconnor,waterford ireland July 13, 2010, 4:07 pm

    Residents Association with one petty member, I figure the dog is a Labrador a fine beast also can double up as a fire alarm tend to bark when smoke appears, after all its not as if its a pack of 40 dobermans, some people just dont like dawgs, I dont like people that dont like dawgs ha ha.

  • andrea July 13, 2010, 4:28 pm

    I hope you post the results for us, too. It never occurred to me that other western countries weren’t the same as Canada. When I was raising a service dog I was only challenged once, by an ill-informed restaurant hostess. I was so sure of myself that I basically ignored her and walked right in the restaurant. It’s a weird feeling having what I considered a sort of higher immunity challenged.

  • Luna_Sea July 13, 2010, 8:02 pm

    Outrageous. I’d rather have neighbors with dogs than neighbors with children. (Please don’t hate me for posting this but dogs are less of a bother to neighbors than unruly children).

  • NONE July 13, 2010, 8:42 pm

    terms vary state to state
    Nolo.com good legal source

    seems the morons have invaded and now are a occupation force there,
    may i recommend for your viewing pleasure the movie
    IDIOCRACY

    a simple explanation of current crisis in thinking(lack of)

  • James July 13, 2010, 10:35 pm

    “húsfélag — the group of property owners that meet to make decisions on the collective property”

    And I thought that each English word typically translates into several Icelandic words – which are then concatenated into just one word…

  • Jessica July 13, 2010, 11:45 pm

    Truly appalling. I cannot believe that Iceland–with its Nordic welfare system–doesn’t have better laws protecting the disabled.

    Can’t the húsfélagið just vote out the one idiot who can’t handle the dog?

  • Rob Hill July 14, 2010, 12:01 am

    The more I see of people, the more I prefer dogs.
    Nearly blind, hearing impaired, oh, my, what an easy victim!
    She most probably needed no permission from anyone to move in with her guide-dog in the first place! The laws governing this must surely be in place. Someone in Iceland, a reader of the law, please, for dog, and woman, and country, for human decency, clarify this issue, and not in gentle terms, as I smell dwarfed egos propelling this attempt at inflicting misery, for misery’s sake. Strip them of their pretenses.
    The people who educate these wonderful dogs, and maybe have some clout are probably on the bandwagon by now, God bless them.
    Sorry, not a pleasant comment, I just get so angry when I see loathsome types assuming the upper hand. Defeat them at the core of their masked motives.
    Saw the photo, Labs are Great dogs!

  • Anna July 14, 2010, 2:31 am

    As an Icelandic dog owner, I have to agree that unfortunately the law gives all the power to those opposing dogs and cats. Even if you own your own apartment, as I do, you have to get the approval of everyone in the building for your dog.

    Not only that, but if somebody sells and a new person moves in, your license to keep your dog can be challenged. Also, your present can change their minds at any time and have your license revoked. Then, you either have to move or let the dog go.

    People don’t have to have a reason under Icelandic law to make someone else get rid of a beloved pet. They don’t have to be allergic or have an unreasonable fear of dogs, and it makes no difference if the dog (or cat) is not a nuisance in any way. You can decide on whim that a neighbor has to get rid of his or her pets. People use this law quite often when they have an argument with their neighbor for some other reason.

    Sometimes I think that no Western nation hates animals as much as the Icelandic do. Dogs are forbidden by law in grocery stores, restaurants, school grounds, playgrounds, buses and government buildings. In most other countries in Europe at least, people are more reasonable.

  • Volkmar July 14, 2010, 7:35 am

    That case is unbelievable! To help that woman, I just added myself to the Facebook group, as # 11.152.

  • Frank Lynch July 14, 2010, 9:29 am

    If the apartment block were to collapse and this mean-spirited neighbour was trapped beneath, I bet he/she would be damn glad to have a rescue dog sniffing about the rubble trying to find him/her.

  • Sue July 14, 2010, 11:17 am

    You already have the answer to one of your questions in association, but in answer to another one of your questions: yes, here in the US guide dogs are protected by law. They can go anywhere. Including planes, restaurants, etc.

  • alda July 14, 2010, 1:43 pm

    Thanks, everyone!

    Like all of you I am appalled at the Icelandic laws and, not least, this woman’s cruel neighbour.

    The latest in this is that the owners’ association met and decided that she could have an extension of the time to sell her apartment — NOT THAT SHE CAN KEEP THE DOG. Isn’t that unbelievable?? Originally she was to vacate by 1 November.

    I’m totally amazed by all of this — that the law could even make this possible. Also, I wasn’t aware that the laws discriminated so heavily against dog owners, as Anna outlines above, although I was aware that the laws about owning dogs were very strict here in Iceland and always have been.

  • icelandbob July 14, 2010, 1:51 pm

    Some Radio DJ´s from X-IÐ rang the man on Monday and asked what the hell he was doing. All he could splutter was that “The rules are rules. She must know that. The dog smells. It leaves hair and it has been crapping EVERYWHERE. I HAVE PROOF!!”

    He then said “they will need to change the law or she will just have to move out!”

    When asked if he was getting any hate mail about this, he said that he was and then then to make himself out as the wronged one. There are arseholes everywhere, but the mans comeplete lack of self awareness, not to mention spiteful stubborness, was a bit shocking, but not that surprising really. Things like this happen a lot up here…..

  • jpeeps July 14, 2010, 4:38 pm

    Just add this to the growing list of laws that need to be reviewed, improved, revised and redrawn from scratch by the Icelandic Government. All in all this is perhaps rather more urgent than banning lapdancing or whatever (and what was that cockamamy distraction of a debate the Althing was having during the le creuset revolution in early 2009?) You need better government!

  • hildigunnur July 14, 2010, 4:40 pm

    The law must be changed so that guide dogs don’t count as normal pets. Simple as that. This is just incredible.

  • anonymouse July 14, 2010, 5:31 pm

    I’m pretty sure the Americans with Disabilities Act grants a lot of protection to seeing eye dogs and “service animals” in general. They pretty much have to be allowed to go anywhere their owner can.

  • Sigvaldi Eggertsson July 14, 2010, 8:46 pm

    Jessica, Iceland does not have a Nordic welfare system. Such a system is one of the goals of the current government but we are far away from that.
    Anna (and the rest of you) the laws were originally not put in place to protect people but to protect the animals themselves.
    Large dogs kept in tiny apartments while their owners were out working (among other things) were the reason these laws were originally passed.

  • Michael July 15, 2010, 11:42 am

    The Americans with Disabilities Act does require that guide animals be treated differently than other pets for most purposes. Housing, public places, travel. It’s a serious discrimination charge to remove someone from a premises or venue with an official guide dog.

  • maja July 18, 2010, 12:32 pm

    Wow, how disgusting.