A few thoughts from Fido, a bitter dog: “They say it’s a dog’s life – and it’s true. I mean, do cats have to wait for a designated time to go for a walk to relieve themselves? Do parakeet or fish have to travel in packs, harnessed to a “dog-walking specialist,” a stranger who is paid to tend to my needs? Ha! – er, arf! And what does anyone know about these so-called specialists, anyway? How special are they?”
You know, Fido has a point. Take the case of Mr. Jones (not his real name), who was going away for a holiday weekend. He informed the staff at his co-op that while he was away he was having a professional dog-walker come by his apartment daily at 10 A.M. and 4 P.M. to take his dog for a walk. Then, at 2 P.M. the next day, a man came by and said, “I’m here to walk Mr. Jones’s dog.” The doorman gave him a key to the Jones apartment and promptly forgot about him. Soon after, the dog-walker apparently left – curiously, without the dog but instead with a pile of jewelry belonging to Mr. Jones’s wife.
Yes, it’s a dog’s life – and not just for the dogs.
Pets in general and dogs in particular can be a thorny topic for boards. Besides the question of whether you allow them in the building at all, there is the issue of dog-walking etiquette, especially as practiced by strangers. When your residents have hired hands coming in to tend to their pooches, what sort of safeguards should you put in place? What should you require so that your cuddly (or cantankerous) canines don’t cause discomfort to their neighbors?
“Some buildings are more anal than others,” notes Paul Columbia, owner of NYC Dogwalkers, a dog-walking firm. “Some won’t allow outside dogs to come and be taken through their lobby to owners’ apartments, which means that people end up with private walks [for their dogs], which are more expensive than semi-private [multiple dog] walks. Generally, the Upper East Side buildings have [you enter and exit through] service entrances versus the Upper West Side, which is more laid back.”
Whether you’re on the East Side or the West, downtown or in Brooklyn, you should have rules in place. Here are some points to consider concerning behavior of those hired to care for our little furry friends:
No dogs allowed in the main elevator. The dogs must ride the service elevator. If there is no service elevator, they can ride the main elevator but they must sit still. “We have no more than three or four dogs together at once,” says Scott Smith, owner of Biscuits and Bath, a dog care company. “Some buildings have service elevators that are specifically for dogs and we’re happy to accommodate that. Others use the main elevators and we train all our walkers to follow the policies of the building and also to make sure the dog is very well behaved when it’s in our care. That means getting them to sit in the elevator in the corner and not interfere with other people.”
Adds John Decker, owner of Downtown Pets, a dog-walking company: “We do feel that aggressive dogs should at the very least wear a muzzle coming in and out of buildings because elevators and lobbies are areas where they can definitely be a little bit cramped and feisty.”
No dog “packs” allowed inside the building. The groups of dogs must wait in front of the property while the dog-walker collects his charge from within. At Board President Gary Sherwin’s 116-unit Upper East Side Manhattan cooperative, for instance, “the dog-walker has to leave the multitude of dogs outside [with a partner or tied up] and come in and get the dog that he or she was walking. Groups of dogs are not allowed in. We have only two elevators, so it makes it difficult. A lot of people would feel uncomfortable getting on with six or seven dogs.”
Dog-walkers must be bonded and insured. It is very important that the board knows that the dog-walking company is bonded and insured. “That is really as much for our protection as a company as for the dog owner,” says Columbia, who notes that if someone gets injured by a dog, “she’s probably going to sue the building – not the girl who was walking the dog.”
“That’s one of the most important things to find out with respect to a dog-walking service: are they bonded and insured, and what sort of insurance do they have?” adds Smith. “Everyone’ll tell you they are [insured] but I can tell you from experience that in most cases that’s not the case.”
If keys are given out, there must be a background check. George Karpodinis, president of a 234-unit co-op in the Fort Washington section of Manhattan, says that his board doesn’t have a policy on background checks for dog-walkers and/or housekeepers – people who get keys to the non-doorman building – but feels that maybe they should. “It is a risk. You’re giving keys out to people. What if it doesn’t work out? They have a key. They lose their job – who knows what they’re going to do? If we were to create a policy, we’d work something out where only the super can allow them in.”
Smith reports that his company performs criminal background and other reference checks on all of the walkers it hires. He adds that “all of our dog-walkers go through a week of training where they will have training with our dog-walking managers and they train them on health and safety. They then go out and walk for the rest of that week with our most experienced walkers so they can show them first- hand how you attach a leash, what do you do in the case of a harness, all those sorts of different questions. So it’s pretty extensive training. We also then have vets that we work with that’ll come in and do group training with our walkers with respect to health and safety tips.”
The staff can’t be expected to keep track of dog-walkers – let them in at your own risk. Depending on the staff to screen your dog-walkers can be a hit-or-miss proposition. The doorman can’t be expected to remember all the details – and you’re asking for trouble if you let him decide who can have access to your apartment. “They say, ‘We were told somebody was coming.’ They don’t remember whether it was 2:00 or 4:00,” notes one veteran manager. “You say to them, ‘Well, I wrote it down,’ and then you look in the drawer and there are 60 little notes and letters from three years ago, all mish-moshed in there.”
In the end, says Fred Rudd, president of Rudd Realty, although rules may differ depending on the nature of the property, there is one point all properties have in common: if they have dogs, they should have some sort of policy. “There are buildings that are known to be pet-friendly and there are buildings that are known to be not-pet-friendly,” Rudd notes. “There are buildings that have the eight-pound rule, and those that have the twenty-pound rule – no dogs over eight pounds, no dogs over twenty pounds. There are people who want to interview dogs in an interview before they permit a sale of an apartment. Different things go on in different buildings.” Don’t get bitten. Arf!