Dogs and apartments

Can Canis lupus familiaris, the domestic dog, be happy in a high-rise?


"I want a dog, but I live in an apartment."

"I'm moving to an apartment, so I have to get rid of my dog."

"I'd like to rent to pet owners, but I can't afford the mess they leave."

"It's not fair to keep a dog in an apartment in the city."

A survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association shows that the number of dog-owning families is declining even while the number of dogs owned is slightly up. Oft-quoted statistics show that hundreds of thousands of healthy, adoptable dogs die in shelters each year. Many of these dogs could find homes if those who moved to apartments could take their pets along and those who live in apartments were allowed to keep a dog. The euthanasia of healthy dogs could be affected at both ends: dogs who might lose their homes because their owners are moving to an apartment could remain with their owners instead of going to the shelter or rescue group, and dogs already at the shelter or with a rescue group could get new homes in apartments.

The solution may be just around the corner. The San Francisco SPCA has developed a cooperative arrangement between pet owners and management companies that dissolves the barrier to pet ownership in apartments. The pact requires concessions on both sides, backed up by owner references, pet resumes, house rules, and contracts, and can easily be adapted to any city's needs.

Dogs in the city

Many dogs, purebred and mixed breed, can live happily in the city as long as their needs for exercise and companionship are met. For many, a daily walk is sufficient; for some, biweekly romps in the park or participation in serious sports such as hunting trials, tracking, agility, flyball, lure-coursing, or other working events are necessary to dissipate large amounts of energy.

Owners of city dogs face some restrictions about cleaning up after their dogs and keeping their pets quiet, but these are easily dealt with by an education campaign emphasizing pride in a clean environment and good manners for all pet dogs.

Those who are willing to clean up their pet's feces and instruct them in courteous behavior should not be robbed of the opportunity to own a dog because others are not willing to do so. Instead of blanket prohibitions, landlords could make use of strict policies governing pet ownership in their buildings.

In San Francisco, a pet owner provides these items to the landlord along with an application to rent an apartment:

  1. References from veterinarians, neighbors, former landlords, and others that the pet is well kept and the owner is responsible;
  2. A packet of information about the pet, including vaccination records, proof of sterilization and licensing, and certificate of completion of obedience class; and
  3. Shows a sense of responsibility about pet care by becoming a member of the local animal welfare society
  4. and also agrees to

The applicant may also offer to bring the pet to meet the landlord and welcome the landlord to visit the pet in the apartment to prove that the policies are being followed.

The advantages to landlords who rent to pet owners are many. Since dogs provide security and companionship for owners, the tenants are likely to remain longer, which reduces turnover and the need to advertise for new tenants, screen applicants, etc. The need to prove a sense of responsibility about a pet increases a tenant's respect for property, and an agreement to pay for any damage reduces the landlord's costs and frustration. The pool of prospective renters is broader if pets are allowed.

Landlords in San Francisco like to rent to responsible pet owners and find that most people are responsible if the ground rules are established from the start.

June Becker, landlord of a dozen units in San Francisco, said that she rents to pet owners because she wouldn't want to give up her own dogs if she were forced to move.

"Because I have pets of my own, I could see the need for pets," Becker said. "They are my family, and I wouldn't want to put prospective tenants in the position of giving up part of their family in order to rent."

"The words 'pets okay' sure bring in the calls," said Eleanor Sampson, another San Francisco property owner. Sampson said that pet owners are more stable tenants.

Sampson and Becker both carefully screen prospective tenants who have pets. They ask for references and check them out, and they look at the pet to make sure it is well groomed and socialized.

Landlords' pet policies

Those who rent an apartment must be prepared to abide by the conditions set down by the owner of the property. If this means no pets because some pet owners in the past have caused trouble, the pet owner has three options: give up the pet, give up the apartment, or change the landlord's mind.

Those who choose the third approach have their work cut out. Most important is to keep cool, gather information to prove the benefits of pets to people and to a stable environment in the apartment building or complex, and point out that responsible pet owners are likely to be responsible tenants as well.

Provide documents to back up your contention and your willingness to compromise. A sample pet policy for the landlord's consideration, a pet resume, references, and a schedule of pet care that shows your efforts to be a responsible owner are necessary. The schedule can include everything from regular veterinary visits to grooming appointments, daily walks, training lessons, participation in pet-facilitated therapy or education programs _ in short, anything you do with the dog that proves your sense of responsibility.

Be willing to concede a point or two. For example, allow the landlord to check up on the apartment or the pet occasionally, make sure Rambo is neutered, and don't let Fifi urinate in the flower bed. If the landlord wants to see an obedience class certificate, either go to a class, take the AKC Canine Good Citizen test, or prove that the dog obeys the simple commands he would learn in class. Vow to keep the apartment free of fleas. And promise you'll never allow Ranger outside without a leash. Ever, even if he has an advanced obedience title.

Potential for other areas

In San Francisco, the pets as apartment dwellers program is part of an overall effort to reduce pet abandonment and deaths. There's no reason why a similar program could not work in every city or region in the country. If a single shelter is reluctant to sponsor such an effort, a coalition of shelters could do so.

Dogs that do well in the city

Many breeds of dogs seem to have a secret yearning to become a couch potato and thus do well in apartments or condominiums.

Low Energy dogs

Those with low energy levels don't even need extensive walks or workouts as long as they get sufficient exercise and are not overfed.

Toy dogs have high energy levels in some cases, but they are small enough that they can satisfy their needs running about the apartment.

Small to medium size low to moderate energy dogs that are also suitable for apartment living include:

Medium energy dogs

Medium to large dogs that can adjust to living in good-sized apartments as long as they get moderately long walks and a weekly allowance of boisterous exercise include:

Dogs that do poorly in the city

High energy dogs

Dogs with high energy levels that do not do well in apartments without daily exercise of at least moderate intensity include:

Any individual dog can have a higher or lower energy level than is typical of its breed. High energy dogs can be destructive dogs if left alone too long or if not given a job to do. Obedience training and crate confinement can be wonderful aids in channeling energy and preventing wholesale damage to possessions when the dog is left alone.

Noisy dogs

Apartment dwellers should also be aware that certain breeds of dogs tend to be noisy, including:

Guardian breeds

Guardian breeds such as

may be too intent on protecting home turf to accept the comings and goings of neighbors, delivery men, repairmen, etc. in some apartment buildings. Obedience training can help here as well, but it is critical that dogs of these breeds be purchased from a responsible breeder who concentrates on mental health when breeding puppies.

Senior Citizen's Pet Protection Act

Senior citizens and disabled residents of privately-owned federally-subsidized housing complexes will gain the right to own pets if HR 1619, the Senior Citizen's Pet Protection act, passes in this session of congress. Residents of federally-owned apartment buildings are already protected.

Many studies point out the benefits of pet ownership to the physical and psychological health of human beings. Pets help seniors remain connected to the outside world and provide love and companionship that keeps owners active and enthusiastic about life. HR 1619 will allow all senior citizens and disabled persons residing in federally-subsidized housing to keep pets under certain guidelines that protect landlords from nuisance and damages.

AKC, dozens of Congressmen and many senior citizen and pet advocacy groups support the law. If it is approved, seniors will not be forced to give up their pets if they move into subsidized housing and pets will continue to live in their loving homes instead of facing traumatic upheavals or death at a shelter.

Much information on congressional activity and the full text of bills and resolutions is available online.The search services are a good place to start.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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