Nick Santino was born in Brooklyn and raised in an orphanage and in foster homes. He'd gotten a bachelor's degree in engineering in 1988 from the New York Institute of Technology, on Long Island, and an MBA in finance from the Jesuit St. Peter's College in New Jersey, and his resume lists him as a software development and engineering consultant.
But his vocation lay in acting. In 1998, just a year after graduating from the two-year American Academy of Dramatic Arts, he began an off-and-on stint playing Officer Anton on the soap opera All My Children through 2001. A year later, he played Father Soto on a six-episode arc of Guiding Light. After a few years of mostly theater and small independent productions, his career began picking up steam once he hit his mid-40s, with a guest role as a hedge fund guru on The CW's Gossip Girl and two appearance as a nightclub owner on USA Network's Royal Pains.
But with this spurt of work and its long daily production schedules, this meant he often have to leave his dog Rocco alone in his condo apartment at One Lincoln Plaza, on Broadway between 63rd and 64th Streets. Rocco was a pit bull, and in 2010, the condo board updated its pet policy to prohibit the breed, reported the New York Post. Rocco, whom Santino had rescued from a shelter, was grandfathered in. And this is when, some of Santino's neighbors say, the harassment began.
"People were complaining about his dog," Kevan Cleary, 63, an adjunct professor at Brooklyn Law School, told the paper. "It was open season on him." Rocco, he said, "was not a barker, but somebody complained that the dog would bark," resulting in Santino being threatened with a $250 fine. Santino wasn't allowed to have Rocco in the main elevators nor to leave the dog alone in the apartment for more than nine hours.
"Everybody knows that he had been harassed by the building management," said another neighbor, Lia Pettigrew.
"Rocco was the sweetest dog in the world. Rocco wouldn't hurt a fly," added James Steven Grant, another neighbor and a dog-owner himself.
John Frazier, an executive vice president of the public relations firm Quinn & Co., to whom a building representative directed a request for comment, told Habitat the board is declining to make any statements.
On Tuesday, January 24, on his 47th birthday, a pressured Santino had his healthy 5-year-old dog euthanized. A day later, he committed suicide by an overdose of pills.
"Today I betrayed my best friend and put down my best friend," read his suicide note, according to his friend Stuart Sarnoff in news accounts. "Rocco trusted me and I failed him. He didn't deserve this."
His friend Sandra Tarr wrote on Facebook, "Nick Santino, you were so dear and special to me and when you called me on Tuesday and cried and told me you didn't want to live anymore, I should have called 911." She later added, "Why didn't I just take Rocco when you called me back in November... Why, why, why? "
Santino's last phone call, to a former girlfriend, was at 2 a.m. Wednesday. Police found his body later that day.
Board to Death
Though the condo board has hunkered down, board member Marilyn Fireman claimed to the New York Post, "I'm sorry the man is dead. But it has nothing to do with the pet policy." Though Santino had complained publicly of the policy, "You just assumed that [his suicide] was a result of a board's decision," Fireman told the paper.
Updated at 7 p.m. to reflect response by condominium board's spokesman.
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