Bonnie thing: Eighty-one-year-old Thelma Williams chose to move out of the Alstonville Adventist Retirement Village rather than give up her beloved dog Bonnie, who has been with her for 15 years.
Bonnie thing: Eighty-one-year-old Thelma Williams chose to move out of the Alstonville Adventist Retirement Village rather than give up her beloved dog Bonnie, who has been with her for 15 years. Cathy Adams

Policy forces Granny out of home

TEN months after moving into her unit at the Alstonville Adventist Retirement Village, Thelma Williams and her Chihuahua Bonnie faced eviction.

Mrs Williams, 81, was taken to the Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal by Seventh-day Adventist Aged Care (North New South Wales) in June in an attempt to have Bonnie removed from the village.

This was despite Mrs Williams and her daughter Cheryl Gardiner going to great lengths to prove that Bonnie was a hearing dog and claim an exemption following advice from the Aged Care Rights Service (TARS).

Mrs Williams is sight and hearing impaired.

Bonnie was promised to her before she was born and has been her companion for 15 years.

Because of a deformed throat, Bonnie cannot bark and she is trained to use a litter box.

Bonnie alerts Mrs Williams by jumping or pawing her leg when the phone rings, a visitor is at the door and anything is out of place on the floor.

“I wouldn’t know how to exist without her,” Mrs Williams said.

“She’s just such a part of my life.”

Ms Gardiner said her mother was offered a place at the village two weeks after applying.

“It had an excellent reputation,” Ms Gardiner said.

“They also have a 24-hour emergency call button in the units.”

Ms Gardiner said she was told of a no-pets policy and sought other arrangements for Bonnie’s care which fell through.

“I knew it would have been extremely difficult for both Bonnie and mum,” she said.

“But mum’s previous living situation had become untenable so it was something we had to do.”

Ms Gardiner said while reading the contract to her mother she realised Bonnie could be classed as a hearing dog.

“I attached a letter from Bonnie’s vet to the contract where it states guide and hearing dogs are accepted and mum signed and I returned it, saying call me if there was a problem,” Ms Gardiner said.

“It was signed and returned so I assumed everything was fine.”

In a letter to the tribunal, Seventh-day Adventist Aged Care managing director David Knight said the board was unable to reconcile the fact that Bonnie’s status as a hearing dog was advanced after her alternative arrangements fell through.

He also said that Bonnie’s presence would cause ‘considerable unrest within the village’ and that she had been brought into the village without consent.

“The dog was smuggled into the village in the dead of night and the first we heard of it was through complaints from other residents,” Mr Knight said.

“The village rules are the village rules and the people there are there because of our no-pets policy and I have an obligation to support them.”

Mr Knight said the board had considered that Bonnie was unable to bark and that her living area was clean and free of odour.

The board also considered several reports, including from the Ballina Veterinary Hospital, a dog behavioural trainer, who observed Bonnie assisting Mrs Williams, and two doctors who stated that Bonnie could be classed as a hearing dog.

On the day of the tribunal no agreement was reached and a full hearing was set down six weeks later.

At the meeting Mr Knight offered Mrs Williams a full refund if both she and Bonnie vacated.

Ms Gardiner said she decided to accept the offer to save her mother from any more stress.

Mr Knight said the exemption clause was now under review.



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