Dog, Gone: Huntsville Employee Can't Bring Anxiety-Relieving Terrier to Work

Steve Doyle Aug. 15, 2015

The Huntsville City Council has denied a city employee's request to bring his dog to work.

Richard Fowler claims he needs Rascal, his six-year-old Boston terrier, around him at all times to calm his severe anxiety. He recently sought permission to kennel Rascal at Hays Nature Preserve, where he works as an herbicide spray technician.

His boss said no; Fowler appealed to the Huntsville City Council.

At its meeting Thursday night, council members upheld the decision of Fowler's supervisor without comment.

The ruling may be just the beginning of a legal fight between Fowler and the city. He has already hired a lawyer and filed a complaint against the city with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

His Birmingham-based attorney, Edward Zwilling, said Fowler suffers from a severe form of anxiety called intermittent explosive disorder. Fowler trained Rascal to sense when he is becoming stressed; the dog alerts him and then creates distraction to calm him down.

"Basically, the dog grounds him," said Zwilling.

Huntsville employees are not allowed to bring pets into the workplace, but the city makes accommodations for service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

During a July 30 personnel hearing, Assistant City Attorney Jocelyn Boustani referred to Rascal as a "comfort dog" rather than a service dog.

A 2010 update to the Americans with Disabilities Act lists several tasks performed by service dogs. They include calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during an anxiety attack.

However, dogs whose sole function is to provide "comfort or emotional support" do not qualify as service animals under federal law.