More Tenant Actions Going to the Dogs, Lawyers Say

, New York Law Journal


Maddy Tarnofsky, a tenant's attorney, with her dog, a 6 year old Newfoundland named Maizie
Maddy Tarnofsky, a tenant's attorney, with her dog, a 6 year old Newfoundland named Maizie

She has been handling pet cases for tenants since 1996, at the beginning of her career in private practice. Before that, she worked for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Copeland said she was drawn to pet work in part because she is an animal lover herself; currently she has two Shetland Sheepdogs and two cats. An early encounter with the legal system also played a role: while she was an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, her landlord tried to make her get rid of her dog. The Boston College Law School Legal Clinic took the case and won.

She views the recent trend toward emotional support animal claims partly as a cultural shift. Copeland is fascinated by the nature of human-animal relationships and how they benefit people psychologically; she corresponds regularly with a paleoanthropologist at Penn State University, Pat Shipman, who maintains that animal-human bonds are as hard-wired in human DNA as language and using tools.

Copeland believes that the therapeutic benefits of emotional support animals, such as service dogs, are becoming more recognized by the public. As a result, she said, tenants facing a choice between a pet and an apartment increasingly know that they have legal remedies.

"People are just picking up on it," she said. "They're reading things, hearing from their neighbors, seeing people."

Doctors, who must vouch that their patients truly need their pets, also have embraced the idea of emotional support animals, Tarnofsky noted.

"It's the rare doctor, now, that says, 'That's ridiculous, this makes no difference to my patient's condition.' I don't hear that anymore," Tarnofsky said. "Doctors are being educated, judges are being educated, legislators are being educated."

Law was a second career for Tarnofsky, who moved to New York from Chicago in 1971 to be an actress. She abandoned that path after casting directors told her she looked "too Jewish," but "not Jewish enough" for Fiddler on the Roof.

"I thought, I can't put my fate in the hands of these idiots anymore. Is there something else that I feel passionate about? And that was landlord-tenant issues."

She began her career at a small tenant firm, David Rosenholtz & Associates. Herself a dog owner and dog lover, she jumped on the first pet case that came to the firm in the mid-1980s and has sought out pet cases ever since.

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