Search and rescue dog, owner declined lease at condo

Post date: Oct 15, 2011 2:20:09 AM

DUNEDIN, Fla. - This is a story about a woman named Erica Bowles, her dog "Rue," and the condominium complex they almost moved into.

"We were going to be given the key on Saturday," said Bowles.

Bowles is no ordinary woman. She's training as an EMT and Firefighter because she enjoys public service.

"Being appreciated. Being able to provide a service. Being able to give back to one's community," Bowles explained.

Her Czech Shepherd is no ordinary dog. She's a K-9 member of Manatee County Search and Rescue. The small, non-profit team has joined big missing-persons searches from Jessica Lunsford to Caylee Anthony. Their team runs on volunteers and donations.

"She's by my side. She's my partner. She's everywhere with me," she said.

Bowles planned to move into a Dunedin condo complex called Nine Fifty Broadway -- but that's where the story gets tricky.

"They said that you are not approved by the condo association,” explained Bowles. "It was heartbreaking to find out the reason they didn't want Rue was she's over 25 pounds, and in their mind they did not see her as being a true service dog."

The letter Bowles was forwarded about the Condo Association's decision reads like this: "...the board has denied your application due to the weight of the dog."

It goes on to say her dog "is a service animal for Manatee County, not for the actual tenant."

Her Search and Rescue group says the letter also reads trouble for groups like theirs.

"The statutes need to be reviewed so there's less of delineation and working dogs are given the same latitudes and privileges as service dogs,” said Larry Leinhauser, Manatee County Search and Rescue Coordinator.

We contacted the attorney for the condo association but they declined to talk to me in person or on the phone.

Bowles and her dog "Rue" are already looking for another condo where their story can have a happy ending.

"We're hoping to find something soon. We put some calls in. There are a couple of communities that are a little more understanding," said Bowles.