New Brunswick

Disabled man wins pet eviction fight

The Department of Social Development is cracking down on residents with pets who are living in New Brunswick Housing units, but a disabled Moncton man will be allowed to keep his dog.

Provincial government says Dani Sonier can keep his dog, Molly

A Moncton man, who has cerebral palsy, has won his fight to keep his dog even though the provincial government has ordered N.B. Housing residents to get rid of their animals or find new homes.

Dani Sonier, 19, got a letter from the provincial government on Tuesday, saying he can keep his nine-year-old dog, Molly.

The letter, written in French and signed by Rebecca Roussel, a program officer with the housing unit of Social Development, suggests he was ordered to get rid of his pet in error.

Sonier was one of the people who was facing having to give up their pets as the provincial government enforces its policy against pets in N.B. Housing units.

But Sonier had argued his dog, Molly, is more than man’s best friend.

"My dog is more than a dog. My dog is my sister," Sonier said.

Sonier was pulled into this conflict with the provincial government because the Department of Social Development is cracking down on residents with pets who are living in New Brunswick Housing units.

More than 100 people living in Parkton Heights in Moncton have been told if they have a pet, they have to get rid of it by Thursday. The notice went out last Friday, and now people are scrambling to figure out what to do.

This is the second N.B. Housing unit to be given this notice.

For Sonier, the need for his pet goes beyond companionship. Sonier has cerebral palsy and has limited range of movement.

His mother, Carol Sonier, said the dog helps him manage his disabilities.

"He just went for an operation for his back. When he got back, when they were trying to make his exercise he was in pain. So he would hug the dog, he could do the exercise," she said.

The Soniers were informed in writing by N.B. Housing that they had to get rid of Molly, but Carol Sonier said they never tried to hide the dog from the government inspectors when they would come to visit.

"They came for the inspection and everything. The dog was right at their feet," she said.

Social Development Minister Sue Stultz said the N.B. Housing Policy is clear that residents cannot have pets. (CBC) (CBC)

When she moved into the unit, Sonier said she included a letter from a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist explaining why Molly had to move in too.

"Whoever assigned us knew that we had a dog," said Dani Sonier. It was never a secret, he said.

Social Development Minister Sue Stultz said everyone living in a N.B. Housing unit signed a lease agreeing not to have a pet.

Stultz said the policy is clear even if people were not enforcing the policy in the past.

"Saying that someone within Social Development or Housing knew about it, well if they knew about it well maybe they should be calling and saying well why aren't you enforcing this because we do have a pet," Stultz said.

Calls to change policy

Although Sonier has won his fight, his family plans to continue to work on trying to get others the right to keep their pets. The Soniers will be circulating a petition with others Tuesday night.

Sonier's story has many people calling on the minister to reconsider the policy.

Debbie Baxter called into CBC Moncton's Information Morning show to say seniors and disabled people have a need for pets.

"We're dealing with a population who has had many losses and we need to make exceptions for the aged and for the disabled when it comes to pets," she said.

"Let's have a little humanity please."

But the minister said notices are being sent out because the department has received complaints.

"I know that pets are therapeutic and I understand all that, but it comes down to the province being liable and the tenants realizing and knowing — we trust them and we have confidence in them that they will follow the lease and the policy that is in the lease about no pets," she said.

So far, only two N.B. Housing communities in Moncton have received notices that their pets must leave.

Stultz said more reminders could be going out to residents across the province reminding them of the policy.

Meanwhile, New Democratic Party Leader Dominic Cardy has started a petition, asking the minister to change the policy.

He is also calling for changes to the provincial Residential Tenancies Act that would remove discrimination against pet owners so they can't be kicked out of an apartment for owning a pet.

Cardy told CBC News the recent examples of seniors and disabled people being threatened with eviction unless they give up their dogs or cats shows how out of touch the provincial government has become.

The minister can and should change the rules, he said.

"She can do this with a stroke of a pen. She can say that pets are allowed in assisted housing — doesn't change any other conditions of the lease," said Cardy.

"People have to keep their apartments clean and tidy everything else. But they're still allowed to have pets and you can punish bad tenants, not punish pet owners as a whole category."

Cardy had previously publicly called on Stultz to halt the pet evictions.