Pet Policy Politics Owners Pamper Despite the Rules

Pet Policy Politics

Let's face it, the City is going to the dogsM-or is it cats? New Yorkers love their pets. No matter whether feline or canine, the depth of emotion owners have for their furry companions is staggering. This staunch devotion could go double for tenants of co-ops and condos who may face No Pets policies from their building's boards or have trouble attending to the animal's needs while juggling their busy work schedules.

Fortunately, there are services offered which help those owners unable to tend to their animals during the day. From feeding to cleaning, they do it all for dogs and cats. It might even surprise you that a pet's home is better protected under the law than some humans'. All of which makes it clear that cats have a good reason to hold themselves so proud and why dogs are wagging their tails so furiously.

Fables from the Furry Front

Love for one's pet doesn't have to ever end. Just ask Pet Patrol's president, Cathy Jablow. Jablow's company offers dog walking services and says 50 percent of her business comes from the co-op and condo community. A dog-walker's job is exactly what it sounds like: They walk dogs for people who are at work or for whatever reason disallows them from doing it themselves. If it rains, they'll also dry off the animal, and they always make sure the dog has water before leaving.

Jablow is used to pampering pooches and taking explicit instructions from clients on where and from which plate Fifi likes to dine, but nothing prepared her for one client's odd request: I had this one woman who was extremely wealthy. She lived in an apartment in the city. I walked her three dogs while she was there. The thing is, one of the dogs is dead. I had to pretend to walk and talk in M-gooey-gooey' language to, essentially, a ghost-dog.

Another client of Jablow's had a dog that enjoyed jumping up and nipping at the butt of the walker every time they left the apartment. We used to walk that dog three times a day. With three different people doing the walking, it added up to a lot of butts. In addition, there's always the percentage of clients who tell her, Leave the toilet seat up, Fido likes to drink, and the other half who say, Leave the seat down or he'll drink from there. Jablow says any dog owner who can pay someone to walk their dog has a spoiled pet on their hands. She has enough stories about her clients and their pets to write a book. Indeed, she is. And she's not the only one.

Marilyn Haskell, president of Purr-fect Cat Care, says her company specializes in cat-sitting for apartment owners. What is cat-sitting? Well, think of leaving your children with a baby-sitter, now substitute your children for your cat and you get the picture. Most cat-sitters enter the apartment, feed, give water, give medication (for animals who must take medicine) and sometimes talk and play with the animal before leaving after their usual one-hour visit. Haskell says she's good at her job because she loves what she does. I like cats better than people, she admits. Some sitters stay the whole day, but most only sit for a select time period. We keep logs of everything we do while watching the animal, says Haskell. How many times we fed it, everything we did.

Keeping a journal can sometimes backfire, as Haskell found out. We sat for this one client. They had three cats. One of the cats needed medication. ffb Well, we would administer the medication and to show its displeasure at us, it would have a bowel movement on our daily log. Another instance, somewhat related, found her at a New York apartment watching five cats. Over time, the family adopted a sixth cat which wasn't accepted by the rest. They wouldn't let it near the litter box. The bathroom was upstairs and, as part of my service, I would go down, pick up the cat, go into the bathroom and put her in the litter box. Wait till it finished its business and take her downstairs again. It got to the point that every time the cat would see me she would look so proud. Haskell is also hard at work chronicling her experiences for posterity.

Board's Bark: Worse Than Its Bite?

Although most buildings have a No Pet policy usually included in their leases, by the brisk business of the services above, it's not hard to discover that few actually enforce it. It's even rarer to find owners concealing their pets or worrying about any repercussions from being a pet owner.

Sylvia Sturm, a resident shareholder in a Coney Island co-op has three cats in her apartment, even though her board doesn't permit pets. They know and they don't say anything, says Sturm. Another woman has two dogs in her New York condo and has openly walked the dogs in front of the building and through the hallway, despite a No Pets Allowed statement in her lease. I've been living here two years and had no problems, she says. Anyway, how am I going to hide two Great Danes?

Yogi, Boo-Boo Jr. (Junior to close friends), Splish, Splash, Rascal, Rocky and Theo (no, this is not the line-up for a new Saturday morning cartoon) all live with Fran Feuerstein in a Brooklyn condo apartment. Not surprisingly, the owner of these seven felines is also the president of a cat lovers group: The Metropolitan Cat Club. Affiliated, she'll have you know, with the American Association of Cat Enthusiasts. Feuerstein signed her lease in which she stated she owned cats. She left out one thing: I just never put down how many, she laughs. My landlord's not happy about them but there's nothing he can do, she says, adding, I'm kind of sorry I didn't get them all at once. I would have named them after the Seven Dwarfs.

If this is how the board and management enforce it, why do most co-ops and condos have such a statement in their lease? Linda Carapella, founder of Kings Highway Cat Rescue, a not-for-profit group that saves cats from all varieties of danger when called, feels the rule is mostly a precautionary measure. They're made for people who take in over 60 cats or dogs and are afraid of the nuisance the animals might cause, she explains. Carapella adds that it's impossible to force people not to have animals in a co-op or condo. I think you'll just get the tenants angry if you say their dogs or cats have to go, she cautions.

Your Pet and the Law

It might surprise tenants to find out that there isn't much management or the board can do to you if you're a pet-owner in a co-op or condo. The threat of eviction doesn't hold up for New York City co-ops and condos, which are protected under legislation passed in 1987 by the New York State Council: The so-called Three Month Law. Lisa Weisberg, a legal advisor for the American Society for the Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals (ASPCA) explains that if the tenant has been open and notorious about harboring the pet for a period of three months or more following possession of the apartment, then building staff, management or board cannot take any actions for eviction of that tenant. This law was brought into effect because landlords, aware of animals in tenant's apartments, were using their knowledge as an excuse to evict tenants, for reasons unrelated to their pets. If legal action is taken, in light of the law, it falls on the plaintiff to prove that the animal has become a nuisance and is causing problems in the building. Weisberg feels that in most instances the nuisance can be corrected and that most cases do not end unhappily. A barking dog can always be tra abc ined not to bark, she says.

Although some owners take their pet love to the extreme, most are simply expressing affection for a part of the family that walks on four legs, instead of two, barks or meows, instead of talks. As Jablow says, These animals are like children; you feed them, you talk to them, you love them. And judging by the number of firms that have sprung up to cater to your pet's every need, it is clear New Yorkers not only love their pets, but love to spoil them, as well. In the end, pet owners say, it's all worth it. After all, they're not just pets; they're part of the family.

Mr. Serken is Associate Editor of The New York Cooperator.

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  • As a pet owner, I have no problem with household pets that are loved and insured with responsible owners. I have a problem with owners boarding outside cats and dogs (babysitting service) without a business license or insurance. Yes, the Board knows about the problem, but the owner in question collects their voting proxies for them, so they do not address the issue.