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Missouri Woman Fights to Keep Three Emotional Support Monkeys

Texanne McBride-Teahan and her three monkeys live in Creve Coeur, Missouri. McBride-Teahan is currently fighting her neighbors about whether she can keep her monkeys as emotional support animals to help her deal with her post-traumatic stress disorder.

McBride-Teahan claims she lived and trained with monkeys for 20 years. Her monkeys were never an issue until she moved to Creve Coeur a month ago. Her neighbor saw one of the monkeys outside, assumed it was a wild animal, and called the police.

The police did not remove McBride-Teahan’s monkeys from her custody. McBride-Teahan’s doctor had “prescribed” her the monkeys as emotional support animals and declared that“the presence of these animals is a necessary treatment for the mental health of Ms. McBride-Teahan.” McBride-Teahan claims the animals are necessary for her comfort and denies that they have ever hurt anyone.

Undeterred, her neighbors raised the issue at a city council meeting. The City cited McBride-Teahan for her possession of the animals, as non-human primates are considered “inherently dangerous animals,” alongside lions, alligators and pythons. Creve Coeur does not permit such animals in residential areas. McBride-Teahan will defend against the citation at a court hearing in November.

What is a Reasonable Accommodation for a Disability?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers must reasonably accommodate an employee request for a service or emotional support animal unless doing so would present an undue hardship. A similar rule applies to landlords when a tenant makes a request for a service or emotional support animal. Disabled tenants can keep service or support animals as an exception to a no-pets policy.

Disability accommodation laws thus have several different elements before an accommodation can be upheld. First, the applicant must have a disability. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a well-recognized disability. There would be no dispute that McBride-Teahan has a disabilityprovided her physician diagnosed her with PTSD. The second requirement is that the accommodation must be reasonable – this warrants greater examination below.

The final requirement is whether the accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the employer or landlord. Allowing one person to keep a pet is normally not an undue hardship provided the animal is well-trained and the employee or tenant cleans up and cares for the animal. One animal or even a handful of animals will not burden most businesses, apartments, or in this, a whole city.

However, neither the ADA nor the Fair Housing Act would apply to the city of Creve Coeur. The McBride-Teahan is requesting an accommodation to a city ordinance and so neither statute would provide a legal basis for restraining the city from applying its wildlife ordinance in this case.

Instead, McBride-Teahan would have to rely on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment in the Constitution itself. Although the ADA and the Fair Housing Act could restrain Creve Coeur if the city were acting as an employer or landlord, that is not the case here.

Instead, McBride-Teahan is arguing that her three monkeys should be exempted from an ordinance banning “wildlife,” including non-human primates, from being in a designated residential zone. There should be no dispute that reasonable accommodations for disabled individuals are a proper application of the Equal Protection Clause.

Both the ADA and the Fair Housing Act cite the Equal Protection Clause as the authority for compelling employers and landlords to make an accommodation. It is no stretch to believe that the Constitution could place the same restrictions on government entities directly.

Why Can’t She Just Use a Dog or a Cat as Her Support Animal?

In order to prevail, McBride-Teahan would need to convince the court that keeping three monkeys as support animals would be a reasonable accommodation under the 14th Amendment. Most of her neighbors would probably question why McBride-Teahan couldn’t use a dog or cat instead.

However, neither the ADA nor the Fair Housing Act gives employers or landlords the power to decide what the petitioner’s support animal should be. Employees and tenants have always had the power to decide not only whether they need a support animal, but also what kind of animal it should be.

If the city cannot decide whether McBride-Teahan should have a dog instead of a cat for her support animal, it does not have the power to decide whether she should have a “normal” animal as her support animal instead of three monkeys.

The real issue is whether a wild animal should be exempted from city ordinances banning their possession if a physician believes the animal is necessary for the emotional support of a patient. Wild animals are usually banned from city limits because they are presumed dangerous and untamable.

However, a mere presumption should not control whether the monkeys are in fact dangerous and whether they have harmed anyone or caused a disturbance. McBride-Teahan asserts that they are well-trained.

If there have been no prior incidents, then McBride-Teahan should be allowed to keep her support animals provided certain precautions are taken. On the other hand, if McBride-Teahan’s neighbors actually saw her monkeys being violent or destructive, then the accommodation would no longer be reasonable.

Jason Cheung

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