Naturita Bends to ADA, Allows Service Horse

Apr 19th @ 9:05 am in News by Scott Staley

From the Daily Press -

Odie can stay.  Disabled miner Bill Clark of Naturita should be able to keep his miniature horse as a service animal, after the town of Naturita relented and began work on modifying the ordinance that had defined Odie as an agricultural animal in need of at least one acre of land.

“My husband has three different lung diseases,” said Clark’s wife, Debbie, on Wednesday. “When they brought him (Odie) down here, he (Bill) got to where he would go outside, go with the horse, walk him, doing different things.”

The miniature horse, who assists Bill Clark with balancing and in getting exercise, arrived about seven months ago. Nobody made a peep about Odie being in town until a few weeks ago, when town board members said Odie couldn’t stay, Debbie Clark said.

The town told the Clarks that because they are just shy of an acre of property, they cannot keep livestock, she said.  But Odie is a bona fide service animal, for which Bill Clark has a prescription.

“The poor little horse, he doesn’t hurt anything,” Debbie Clark said. “He’s great for the husband. We’ve had him here for seven months. The town board, they wouldn’t even look at the prescription. They just laughed it off like it was a big funny haha.”

Enter Jerry Gallegos.  After the Clarks’ plight was reported in the San Miguel Basin Forum on April 11, the Daily Press contacted Gallegos, a Grand Junction-based consultant for the Americans with Disabilities Act and part of the National Association of ADA coordinators.  Gallegos said he contacted the town.

“I told them they were in violation of the ADA by not letting him have a service animal. It is in the regulations that it is a service animal. They were trying to claim it as a stock animal,” Gallegos said.  He said the town was receptive and began modifying its ordinance.

“It doesn’t cost anything to accommodate a person who is disabled. It’s better to settle it that way,” Gallegos said.  “I haven’t found one municipality yet that complies with ADA totally. I’m not out here to hurt anybody, just to let them know what their rights are and what their obligations are, too. … It’s usually a very easy fix and usually doesn’t cost anything at all.”

The town board on Wednesday began steps to modify the ordinance.  “We’re just bringing things up to date,” Mayor Tami Lowrance said. There have been some changes to the ADA in the past few years concerning animals she said. According to the town ordinance, no horses are allowed within town limits.  “It was a modification for service animals that we would not require an acre of land for a service animal. It could be under an acre and they could go ahead and have a service animal,” Lowrance said.

The modification is not yet complete, but initial steps were approved on Wednesday, she said.  Debbie Clark said she had received word from the Forum indicating the reporter had been told Odie could stay.  She received a phone call confirming that decision Wednesday during her interview with the Daily Press. Clark said she was asked to tell Gallegos that the town would modify the ordinance to allow service animals.

“The whole thing, since it came out (in the Forum), it’s amazing how people have stood up and backed me. There hasn’t been one bad thing said about that little horse,” Clark said.  “Not only does he bring good things for my husband, but we have people stopping by here all the time. … He is affectionate. He would come right in the house if you let him. I have people coming by all the time, stopping and petting him. He just stands there.”