Rockville Centre co-op lets woman, 92, keep her dog

Mary Pasko with her toy poodle 'Coco' in Mary Pasko with her toy poodle 'Coco' in her daughter's Rockville Centre home on Aug. 12, 2008. Photo Credit: Newsday File / Thomas A. Ferrara

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The Hartley House co-op in Rockville Centre has settled a federal disability lawsuit by agreeing to let widow Mary Pasko, 92, keep her 14-year-old pet poodle, Coco, the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn announced Wednesday.

Pasko, who needs a wheelchair, attracted public attention and federal intervention in her fight after the co-op sued to evict the poodle under a "no pets" rule in 2007. She said she was "very happy" at the outcome.

"I got a little walk in me," Pasko said in a telephone interview. "I wouldn't have anything to live for if it wasn't for my dog, and my daughter and my grandson. I have a hard time getting out. As long as I have the dog, I have somebody to keep me company until I close my eyes."

"We're thrilled Mary can finally relax and enjoy her golden years without having to worry about having her dog removed," said Pasko's private lawyer, Karen Copeland. "If a 92-year-old woman weren't allowed to keep her 14-year-old poodle, wouldn't there be something terribly wrong? Justice prevailed."

Pasko got the dog in 1996, a gift from one of her children right after her husband died. The fight with the co-op board erupted after she moved into the unit owned by her daughter, Joan Anzelone, and later brought the poodle to live with them full time. She said Coco helped her fight depression.

Under federal law, buildings must make "reasonable accommodations" to residents who need an animal to assist with a disability, including depression. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development charged in 2008 that the attempts to evict Coco violated fair housing laws.

Co-op spokesman Paul Verbesey said the board still believed Pasko didn't need the dog for medical reasons, but the settlement - in which the co-op did not admit to any wrongdoing - reflected a decision reached some time ago that it wasn't a situation worth litigating.

"The reason we did the accommodation is that she's very old, the dog is very old, and there's no reason to force the issue," Verbesey said, adding in a later statement, "We remain a small and friendly co-op, and continue to wish a long and happy life to Mrs. Pasko and Coco."

"She's elderly and she's very sick, and this is really her lifeline," Anzelone said.

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