By Kara Herlihy
Patty Cooper "hates being inside" -- so much, that the wheelchair-dependant woman has enlisted the help of a capable service animal, "Earl," to help her get out. Earl is a yearling miniature pony that, according to Cooper, is easier to train than a dog.
Cooper's landlord, Preston Jump of the CVCLT, said that alterations to "our apartments is prohibited by our leases," and led to the initial investigation into whether Earl would be a suitable service animal at the Mad River Meadows, Waitsfield, affordable housing complex.
The CVCLT rejected Cooper's request to retain Earl as her service animal of choice, citing the animal's inability to be house-trained, and lack of adequate grazing space on the six-acre parcel that holds 24 units of "safe, decent and affordable housing," Jump's letter said.
Cooper has filed a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission and still hopes that the disagreement can be mediated.
Jump said that the CVCLT "has always done everything possible to accommodate its residents" which has in the past been limited "mostly to dogs." He said, "Unfortunately, the nature of the property and its physical layout is inappropriate" for a 32-inch pony named Earl.
Cooper has Celiac disease, a condition where bones become incredibly brittle and fractures can occur very easily and often. Cooper has had guide dogs in the past but found Earl more appropriate for the labor-intensive job of pulling her wheelchair.
Despite her physical limitations, Cooper, 51, with a fragile frame, tries to remain as 'active as possible' but has stopped driving as a result of the risks associated with it.
"I can't vote, I can't get groceries, I can't be independent," Cooper said. With training Cooper hopes that Earl could pull her wheelchair up and down the troublesome hills that prevent her from enjoying the recreational activities of The Valley, as well as the day-to-day tasks she is unable to complete.
Jump said that he "would love to see Patty have this animal if other arrangements were made" and said that he and CVCLT had researched the prospect intensively and ultimately ruled against the notion.
Cooper assured that "overall, I really approve what the [CVCLT] does for the community," and that she wasn't angry, just upset. "I like life," Cooper said, and this situation "has socially isolated me."