State: Condo discriminates by denying service dog for depression
By MITCH DUDEK Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org April 11, 2012 9:52AM
Nio Tavlos with Diego
Updated: May 13, 2012 8:22AM
A depression-fighting dog named Diego is at the heart of a condominium quarrel in Lakeview that’s prompted the State of Illinois to choose sides.
Nio Tavlos, who suffers chronic depression, believes his 12-pound miniature poodle should be permitted to live with him as a service animal for therapeutic purposes.
The pup wards off bouts of depression that cause lethargy and stagnate the mind of the 67-year-old artist, he claims, and he has a doctor’s note to prove it.
But the condo association at 3150 N. Lake Shore, a 36-floor high-rise that has a no-pet policy, remained unmoved.
So Tavlos took his case to the Illinois Department of Human Rights, which on Tuesday — about six years after the dispute began — filed a lawsuit on behalf of Tavlos accusing the condo association of violating anti-discrimination laws.
Tavlos made his canine request to the condo association in 2007 after learning other residents had pets as service animals, some for emotional support, while others secretly kept their pets in the building — a measure Tavlos refuses to employ.
The request was denied twice despite letters from two of Tavlos’ doctors, including one which claimed a full-time canine companion would be “the best and safest approach” to treat his depression, according to the suit.
Tavlos, a painter who travels between his home in Santa Fe, N.M., and his wife’s Lakeview condo, also often thinks of his other poodle, Nina, which died last year from cancer. “It’s hard, too, when I walk outside and see everyone walking their dogs on the lakefront,” Tavlos said Wednesday.
“I birthed them, and I’ve never lived without a dog my entire adult life. I wouldn’t want to live without dogs, to be honest with you ... They are like my children,” said Tavlos, who keeps Nina’s ashes at his Santa Fe home.
For the past seven years, Tavlos has spent most of his time in Chicago. He has been paying a caretaker to look after Diego in New Mexico.
Without the dog, “I spend a lot of time in bed, I’m lethargic, I’m not creative,” said Tavlos, who said he has offered to carry the dog when he is in his building but outside his unit.
“The place is soundproof, too,” said Tavlos’ wife, Janice Pantazelos. “I’m an opera singer and practice here, and no one’s ever complained.”
Tavlos filed a discrimination complaint with the state, which filed Tuesday’s lawsuit after the Department of Human Rights found “substantial evidence” that the condo association discriminated against him by denying a reasonable accommodation for the dogs. His depression qualifies as a physical disability under Illinois state law, the agency says.
The suit also asks that the condo association create a policy to deal with other requests for reasonable accommodation of disabilities and train employees in fair housing practices. And it asks for an unspecified amount in damages and court costs.
Leaders of the association did not return calls and emails seeking comment.
“We were even willing to rent a studio apartment across the street to keep the dogs there, and bring them over to visit, because pets were allowed to visit at the time,” said Tavlos. “But not long after I told the president of the board about our plan, the sign allowing pets to visit was taken down.
“And I don’t want to move, because my wife always wanted to live in this building because the top of it is all white and resembles the Parthenon ... we’re both Greek. I don’t want to spoil that for her.”
Tavlos — who wears a bracelet emblazoned with hearts and the names of the two dogs — even “taught Diego how to dance Greek,” said his wife. “Diego stands on two legs and spins in circles. He misses that.
“This dispute has been going on for six years,” she said. “It’s been a long haul.”