Whither Skippy? Will Man Profiled in SF Weekly Cover Story Have to Give Up His Service Iguana?

Categories: Government, Media
Joe Eskenazi
Cosmie Silfa and Skippy
Our more fervent readers may recall a June SF Weekly cover story titled "Service with a Snarl" exploring the city's intriguing rules and regulations regarding service animals. Yes, it was the one with the maniacal Chihuahua on the cover.

One of the service animal users profiled in the article was Cosmie Silfa, who keeps a platoon of lizards in his 80-degree SRO hotel room, including "Skippy," his service iguana.

"To whom it may concern, I am the treating psychiatrist of Mr. Cosmie Silfa," reads the well-worn letter written on Silfa's behalf by Dr. Cynthia Resendez. "I have been treating Mr. Silfa for depression. His pet iguana, Skippy, helps him to maintain a stable mood as she provides companionship and motivation for him to stay well. She is an essential component of our treatment plan, and I recommend she continue to be able to live with Mr. Silfa in his apartment."

Ostensibly, this should be all Silfa needs in order to leapfrog (no pun intended) rules regarding pets in his room at the Knox SRO in SOMA. But his building managers want more, and have told him if he doesn't hand back some forms, he'll have to get rid of his service iguana.

Silfa told SF Weekly that representatives of the John Stewart Company, which manages the Knox SRO, have demanded he not only present his letter, but get his doctor to fill out a "Section 504 Housing Application." According to Silfa, his doctor balked, telling him that the letter was enough.

"They were expecting to hear something by [Monday]," said Silfa of his apartment managers. "They want me to show them the paperwork or get rid of the animal."

Our calls to John Stewart -- the company, not the Daily Show host -- were passed up a successive corporate ladder until we reached CEO Jack Gardner, who is out of town. When we asked to speak to the second- or third-best person regarding their service animal policy, we were told more than a few people were out of town and it might take a couple of days to return our message.

As for whether the building managers are entitled to ask for more than a doctor's note -- which would be news to us -- the Mayor's Office on Disability said this isn't a matter of interpreting the Americans with Disabilities act (which they do) but the Fair Housing Act (which they don't do). That's a matter for the office of Housing and Urban Development.

Chuck Hauptman,  HUD's regional director of fair housing and equal opportunity, said he's confused by Silfa plight. "If, in fact, the housing provider was aware this was a service animal and approved that [earlier], I don't understand what they're doing at this point." 

We'll keep you posted on the situation.

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