Can a disabled teenager keep a miniature horse in an urban location as a “service horse”? That was the issue in an interesting lawsuit that was decided last year by a federal appellate court in Ohio.

At issue was a Blue Ash, Ohio city ordinance banning horses from residential property. Allegedly acting in response to complaints from neighbors about unsanitary conditions and offensive odors created by the horse, the city wanted residents (Anderson and her daughter) to remove a miniature horse from their property, and it brought criminal charges against Anderson. She and her daughter fought back.

The residents sued the city in Federal Court arguing that it intentionally discriminated because of Anderson’s daughter’s disabilities. They explained that the miniature horse was a "service animal" because it helped the teenager (who suffers from several disabilities including autism, seizures, chronic lung disease, developmental delay, and others) to walk and balance herself. Two laws, they explained, entitled the teenager to keep the horse as a service animal: the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101, et seq, and the Fair Housing Amendments Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq.

Although the city maintained that the horse was a farm animal, not a service animal, the appellate court noted that miniature horses have, at times, been used to help people with disabilities. They can be trained to provide services; they can be housebroken; they can even be taken on trains and commercial flights. Their life spans are significantly longer – at least 25 years for a service horse as compared to about 7 for a service dog.

Ruling for the city, the trial judge ordered the miniature horse removed, but the resident/horse owners appealed. The federal appellate court reversed the trial judge and ordered a new hearing. It said: “While protecting public health and property values are central to the City’s interests, [the resident] has produced evidence that the presence of one miniature horse at her house will not create unsanitary conditions or devalue her neighbors’ property, supported not only by her own testimony but by signed letters of support from her current neighbors. She also testified that she has retained a service to clean up animal waste, and ensure that unsanitary conditions will not reappear.”

Because the appellate court was unable to determine whether the residents' “requested accommodation was reasonable and necessary to afford her and [her daughter] an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their dwelling,” it remanded the case back to the trial court for another trial on the issue of whether the city had unfairly discriminated against the teenager.

The case is: Anderson v. City of Blue Ash, 798 F.3d 338 (6th Cir. 2015).