In January 2020, Marta Garcia and her family moved into an apartment complex in Livingston, Texas. Shortly upon their arrival, the family discovered that the stove wasn’t working and there was an infestation of centipedes and scorpions in the apartment. Concerned for the health and safety of her family, Mrs. Garcia made requests for repairs and extermination to the apartment management, who continually ignored them. Although frustrated, Marta tried to stay positive. She spent more time outside and cooked on their outdoor grill.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. Mrs. Garcia began to experience severe anxiety and depression from isolation as a result of the social distancing measures being carried out throughout the state. As she watched the rising numbers of exposures and deaths on the news, she began to feel helpless and hopeless, knowing that the lockdown was necessary to keep her disabled 92-year-old mother, her husband, and their young son safe. To deal with her depression and anxiety, Mrs. Garcia sought out a therapist, who felt that she would greatly benefit from a therapy animal and wrote her a prescription to get a puppy as an emotional support dog.
Mrs. Garcia requested and obtained approval from apartment management to get a therapy animal, but they claimed that it would be considered a pet, which would require a non-refundable deposit of $600. Mrs. Garcia went to the local kill shelter and picked out an unwanted 6-week-old lab mix puppy who she knew would be scheduled to be put down if not adopted or fostered. It was love at first sight between our client and the puppy she named Evie. Evie was the runt of the litter and weighed 5.8 pounds.
The next week, after scraping together the $600.00 pet deposit, our client went to the office to pay it and let them know she had found a therapy dog. Without warning, the manager refused to accept the pet deposit and served Mrs. Garcia and her family with a 72-hour notice to either vacate the apartment or immediately get rid of the puppy. If Mrs. Garcia didn’t vacate the property or lose the puppy, she and her family would be locked out after 5:00 p.m. on Friday, five days later. Though she was distraught over the prospect of having to give up the puppy, Mrs. Garcia didn’t want to risk her family being locked out, so she arranged to drop off the puppy at a shelter.
In a final attempt to rectify the situation, Mrs. Garcia contacted the Lone Star Legal Aid’s Conroe Branch Office to see if there was any way to save Evie. She spoke to attorney Deborah Concepcion and her paralegal, Natalia Reese, who signed Mrs. Garcia and her puppy up for representation by Lone Star Legal Aid to defend their rights. Deborah and Natalia worked to secure the appropriate documentation and proof to formally register the puppy as a therapy animal-in-training to be certified later as a service animal. Deborah was then able to successfully negotiate with the management company to agree to allow the puppy to stay with the Garcia family and also confirmed that no pet deposit would be required. On the same Friday that our client and her family would have been locked out, the management company fumigated the apartment, repaired the stove, and Evie found her forever home.
Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves the millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at www.lonestarlegal.org.
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