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Pack Your Bags, Lassie

Pack Your Bags, Lassie

Everyone likes dogs, right? They’re man’s best friend, an uncritical companion who will love you no matter who you are, and who count among their brethren such canine wunderkinds as Rin-Tin-Tin, Benji, Asta, and, of course, Lassie, the most helpful dog of all time (“Run, Lassie, get help!” some trapped person on TV’s Lassie would invariably yell to the pooch, who would run off and alert the authorities).

How can you not like a dog?

Say hi to a collection of naysayers: your friendly neighborhood board of directors, whom even Lassie would probably leave behind to drown. Apparently, the most reasonable of boards can go nuts over the presence of a forbidden animal in its complex. My board, for instance, was so concerned about the potential barking of a small dog, whose owner was asking for permission to make him a resident in the building, that the directors made two requests. First, they had to meet the dog. (Done! And that pup had better manners than some shareholders I know.) Then, if the dog passed the interview, his owner would have to put a thousand bucks in escrow as a security. (Done! And the money was eventually returned to him.)

Some won’t tolerate a dog – no matter how innocuous. A young woman I knew some years ago asked me for my advice because she had been confronted by her co-op’s board president in the elevator. He had accused her of harboring a dog, an animal that was strictly verboten under the house rules. He might have been right on facts, but his timing was way off: she had taken the dog out for walks every day for the past three months, and the staff had clearly seen her. According to attorney Steven Sladkus, a partner at Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz, the staff is considered an extension of the board. It is assumed by the court that if they see the dog, the board has seen the dog. And, under the law, if the board does nothing for three months about an illegal pet it has known about, it waives its right to evict it. (Hear that, dog-preventers? Get your staff on the beam, or you could lose those pet lawsuits.)

It gets trickier. What about the various and sundry cases where residents have argued that they have to have their dog or cat living with them, since they are diagnosed with depression and the pet is a medical necessity, despite the building’s official no-pet policy? How far should a condo or co-op board go to accommodate a resident with a disability? How does a board ascertain if a request from a disabled resident is reasonable or totally unrealistic? The need for a “therapy dog” is not as cut-and-dried as a case Sladkus once handled. In that situation, a woman told her condo board that, because of a sore foot, she needed to have a washing machine installed in her apartment. That one was a no-brainer: the condo plumbing could not sustain individual washing machines – and a sore foot does not a disability make.

No, therapy dogs are more complicated. Most everyone heard about the depressed woman whose board had her get rid of her therapy dog because it thought the claim bogus, right? She died soon after, and her husband blamed the co-op (the board also had the bad taste to keep a “no pets” fine in place, forcing the grieving widower to pay up or move out; talk about helping the resale-value reputation of the building!).

Think of an even knottier scenario: a blind man with a seeing-eye dog moves in. How do you deal with that? Discrimination laws forbid you to reject the applicant because of his disability, and the dog is an essential part of his lifestyle. You have the pet policy in place because some people are allergic to the animals’ fur. It’s a tough one – and your only solution may be to try and live with it, perhaps by adding fans to the public spaces around the dog residence to blow away the dog dander (admittedly, a less-than-ideal situation).

But those who get hot about dogs have their reasonable, Hamlet-on-the-Hudson side to them as well. One cat-owning Manhattanite who sublets her co-op apartment, speaking anonymously since her building allows pets, told Habitat: “I have a no-dog policy [in my sublease agreement] that I’m deeply ambivalent about, because I love animals and, in fact, I’d [successfully] begged to have the no-pet rider taken out of my rental lease when I first moved in,” before the building went co-op. “But I also want to protect my investment. I’ve seen in other people’s apartments the damaged floors, the clawed walls, and the unhappy neighbors who complain because the dog next door barks all day when it’s left alone.”

Really? I bet she’d sing a different tune if she were trapped in a deep well and her only chance of escape was Lassie going to get the fire brigade to rescue her.

Or something like that.

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