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Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

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COVID-19

Co-op Board Bites Back at COVID-Sniffing Dog

Bill Morris in COVID-19 on May 13, 2021

Maspeth, Queens

COVID-sniffing dog, co-op board, no-pets policy, disabilities.

A COVID-sniffing dog is not in Donnie Young's future.

May 13, 2021

This is not a man-bites-dog story. This is a co-op-bites-COVID-sniffing-dog story. 

Yes, COVID-sniffing dog. Since dogs have some 300 millions scent receptors – compared to a mere 5 million in humans – they have been deployed successfully sniffing out firearms, drugs, explosives, bed bugs and, now, people who have been infected with the COVID-19 virus. Researchers believe various diseases, including diabetes, Parkinson’s, lung cancer and COVID, cause the human body to produce organic compounds, which trained dogs can detect in the infected person’s saliva or sweat. COVID-sniffing dogs have been used in successful trial programs at airports in Finland, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, and by the Miami Heat of the NBA as a tool for screening fans entering the arena.

Which brings us to Donnie Young, who inherited his co-op apartment in Maspeth, Queens, after his 94-year-old mother died. Young, now 62, retired from the NYPD as a sergeant in the street crimes unit shortly after 9-11, then worked under government contracts to train national police and soldiers in many of the world’s hottest spots, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Congo, Somalia, Chad and the West Bank.

“I’ve been overseas in war zones for 20 years,” Young says. “I wanted to stay home with my three children.”


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He got a job offer from a company that trains bomb-sniffing dogs. “Then they switched,” Young says, “and wanted to pair me with a COVID-sniffing dog. You have to develop a relationship with the dog – you can’t just drop it off at a kennel at night.”

One small problem: Young’s 360-unit co-op has a no-pets policy. The only exceptions are service animals for people with disabilities, such as seeing-eye dogs, and support animals, which have to be allowed under law for people who can document an emotional need for the animal. This latter class has produced a cottage industry of online scammers who help people document nonexistent emotional distress – and the accompanying need for a support animal.

“I reached out to the co-op board to see if they would make an exception to the rule and allow me to have the animal in the building,” Young says. “I told them I wouldn’t use the elevator. These dogs don’t bark. The dog  will be with me at all times, and the dog could even help keep down fears of COVID in the building. I told the board it would make everyone happy and make the co-op look good.”

The co-op board didn’t see it that way. The president told Young there was a concern that if one dog were allowed, the board would get flooded with pet requests by other shareholders, who have the right to be treated equally. The board was between a rock and a very hard place.

The board’s attorney, Abbey Goldstein, a partner at Goldstein Greenlaw, says the board did not seek his legal advice on the issue. But when contacted by a reporter, Goldstein said, “I would tell a board that they were within their legal rights to oppose the request. I don’t know how the courts would deal with it, but I think (Young) would have a hard time prevailing since he doesn’t need the dog because of a disability.”

After the board turned down his request, Young turned down the job offer.

“I understand that the board would have gotten blowback from residents if they had granted my request,” Young says. “But I think there can be an exception for a working dog that’s serving a greater good. This was an opportunity to do the right thing. I respect the board’s decision, but I just wish they could have looked at the bigger picture.”

Since the board rejected his request, Young has gone back to job hunting. “I’m looking for work,” he says. “I’m always looking for work.”

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