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I live in a pet-free building, which suits me just fine. I am allergic and afraid of large dogs. Now I see several people with “comfort” dogs. What recourse do I have? Signed, Dreads Dogs
Society changes, and we often have no choice but to go along with those changes. At one time, the only service dogs you probably saw were for people with impaired vision. Today, however, many others use pets to alleviate anxieties and other ailments. Also, dogs and cats often serve as a comfort to autistic children as well as the elderly.
In order to have a pet in a pet-free building, the pet owner must adhere to certain rules. If someone wants a comfort animal, they must bring in a doctor’s note stating that the animal is necessary for whatever issues they may have. If a building denies the request from someone with a disability, even a building that has a no-pet policy, management can be fined.
Some buildings require pet owners to use the service elevator for their dogs. Other buildings, like mine, have set a limit on the weight of dogs that are allowed.
There’s also a rule, part of NYC’s pet laws, that says if a dog owner has been keeping a well-behaved dog "openly and notoriously," for more than 90 days, and management hasn’t done anything about it, your building’s no-pet rules are considered waived.
When I moved into my co-op, I knew it allowed animals. Not being a dog lover, it never occurred to me that at least one third of the residents would have a dog—or two. My next-door neighbor, who lived in a small studio apartment, had a full-sized standard poodle. I almost fainted when I saw Archie the dog for the first time—he was huge. But his owner was always respectful. She never entered the elevator if someone else was getting on or was already inside. She made sure that her dog never barked or did any damage to the building. Archie was the most gentle and well-behaved dog I had ever known. When Archie died, the building mourned—and I did too.
I would suggest that you talk to the board president and express your concerns. While you cannot change a law, you should be able to have people be as respectful of your fears and allergies as you are of their pets.
Dianne Ackerman is the new voice of reason behind Ms. Demeanor. She has lived in her Upper East Side co-op for the past 20 years and is the vice president of her co-op board. She is filled with opinions that she gladly shares with all who ask—and some who do not. Have something that needs sorting out? Drop her an email.