OAKLAND CITY — The Oakland City Common Council voted to grant a variance which would allow a resident to keep a pygmy goat within city limits, contingent on him having it officially registered as an emotional support animal.

Jeff Tinsley attended the Aug. 27 council meeting to report issues with a neighbor's overgrown lawn, and at that same meeting building commissioner Darrell Corn reported that he had had to flag the Tinsley property after a complaint came to him about a goat at the residence.

According to an Oakland City ordinance passed in the 1990s, livestock cannot be kept within city limits. The issue was tabled last month, and Tinsley appeared before council Tuesday to hear an update on the process.

Tinsley said he did not understand how the board could take something away from him that helps him medically. During the previous meeting he explained that his doctor had recommended he find something to help ease the impact PTSD from his time in the service places on his life.

"That would be like telling me if I was a diabetic I couldn’t have my insulin cause it’s a city ordinance," he said.

Tinsley asked if the board was saying it could overrule a doctor's opinion.

"That's our opinion, yes," Spindler said.

Spindler cited the home rule which Indiana has through The Home Rule Act of 1980. Home rule is the ability of city and county to govern themselves, such as creating local ordinances.

Tinsley asked what would happen if he did not get rid of the goat and Spindler said he would be found in violation of a city ordinance and the city would take action to abate the violation. It could move into the courts if necessary.

Tinsley said the neighbor who originally complained about the goat has now said there isn't an issue. Tinsley said the animal does not smell and is not a nuisance.

"I’ve got a dog in my trailer that’s bigger than my goats," he said.

Tinsley again said that taking away the animal, which he said keeps him calm, would be like telling him he could not have his medicine.

Wirth said the city has rules and regulations it has to follow. At that point, Tinsley began to question the council about a previous decision involving fining a property for tall grass, where he felt they had not followed their own rules and regulations.

Wirth said the council would end discussion on the the topic at that time, but Tinsley continued to speak. After Police Chief Tim Gaines stood, Tinsley made his way outside, and on his way out said, “Mr. Spindler, take me to court.”

Once Gaines and Tinsely left the room, Cooper said he was not done discussing the issue, and said he believes the council could pass a variance in this case.

He said he did visit the property and he agreed with Tinsley that there was no smell or noise due to the animal.

“I think it's very unfortunate that we as a council are here getting in the middle of two neighbors that are bickering back and forth,” he said. “We have more important stuff, much more important, that we should be addressing tonight.”

At that time, Cooper offered a motion to pass a variance which would allow Tinsley to keep his goat. He said he was mindful of the fact that anxiety and PTSD are dealt with in a variety of ways.

Councilman Charlie Cochren said, before agreeing to the variance, that he would like Tinsley to have the opportunity to have the animal designated as a service animal. He said this would give him more pull in terms of the ordinance.

Service animals and emotional support animals do differ as regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA states a service animal is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The rules that apply to service dogs also apply to miniature horses.

According to the ADA, while Emotional Support Animals or Comfort Animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals, they are not considered service animals under the ADA.

“These support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities,” the organization states. “Even though some states have laws defining therapy animals, these animals are not limited to working with people with disabilities and therefore are not covered by federal laws protecting the use of service animals.”

While an emotional support animal is not recognized by the ADA, any animal can be certified as one making the range of possibilities much larger than an official service animal.

Tinsley’s goat would qualify as an emotional support animal as there is no restriction on the type or size of animal.

Wirth asked Tinsley’s wife, who remained in the meeting, to see if they could have the animals designation completed by the next meeting.

Chief Gaines also reentered the meeting to express an apology on Tinsley’s behalf.

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