Luis Rodriguez contemplated suing when a property owner wouldn’t let him rent because he had a support dog, Lori the pit bull.
Rodriguez, a 24-year-old UF law student, was one of a few people who attended a talk by Micanopy-based animal law lawyer Marcy LaHart at the Civic Media Center on Tuesday evening about the rights of service animals and their owners.
“At first, I had thought that I could sue if I wanted to. (The property) was owned by a good friend of my parents, so I didn’t,” said Rodriguez. “But what am I supposed to do?”
Rodriguez’s problem wasn’t isolated. During the talk, LaHart engaged in open and intimate discussion with audience members, letting them ask questions and share instances when they felt inconvenienced by animal service laws.
Her expertise comes from 25 years practicing animal and environmental laws. During her career, LaHart helped defeat the Miami-Dade County pit bull ban in 2012 and provided pro bono legal assistance for Sabal Trail pipeline protesters.
LaHart explained the difference between service and support animals, the former being for owners who have PTSD or blindness and the latter for those with depression or anxiety. She also spoke about how support animals don’t need special training like service animals do.
“People who rely on assistance animals are vulnerable because of their disability, don’t understand their rights and are easily bullied,” LaHart said. “I don’t like to see that happen.”
Kaithleen Hernandez, a Civic Media Center coordinator, organized the event because LaHart, who is her housemate, wanted to update the public on assistance animals laws.
“Your animals have rights as well, and people should know that these are beings that are here to protect and serve, and they’re just doing their job,” she said.
Lori, a support dog, greets Marcy LaHart, a Micanopy-based animal law lawyer, during her speech at the Civic Media Center in downtown Gainesville Tuesday evening.