By Dr. Marty Becker
Q. I live in a townhouse community that does not allow animals. I have many elderly neighbors, and I feel that having the option of keeping a pet would do wonders for their health and social interaction. Do you have any ideas about how I might approach this issue with our board and try to change this unfair rule?
A. It's very true that pets are good for your health - and this may be especially true for older people. Pets keep us more active and more social, and those things help keep us feeling younger. Having the ability to own a pet could indeed be beneficial for your neighbors - and for you.
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The first step in approaching your homeowners association or condo board is to carefully prepare your arguments. The Citizens for Pets in Condos organization has a free downloadable presentation on the health benefits of pets that can be used to help convince homeowners or condo associations to drop no-pet rules.
(I looked over the presentation and thought they did a very good job, and then laughed when I saw my own Healing Power of Pets book cited as source material. No wonder I liked it!)
But what if the health benefits argument is getting you nowhere? If you live in California, no-pet rules aren't just unfair, they're unlawful. That's the word from Jerry Thornton, who's married to VetStreet pet expert Kim Campbell Thornton and has served as president of their homeowners association in Lake Forest, Calif. Before the current law was passed, the Thorntons worked to ensure that pets were welcome in their community. The key? Jerry Thornton says it's reasonable limits - and rules that are followed.Know the Rules - and Your Rights
"Reasonable rules in our case meant no bans on any kind of pet," Thornton says. "We didn't limit to one pet, or to the pet being under 25 pounds. We all have direct access to the outside here - no one has to pass anyone in a hallway - so we settled on two pets of any kind that require access to the common areas."
Thornton said that municipal codes will handle some of the other problems that come up with pet ownership, so the association may not need to have rules about those. In the city of Lake Forest, for example, Thornton says there are limits on the number of dogs per home and regulations regarding nuisance barking. Within the Thorntons condo community itself, rules require picking up after pets and keeping them leashed.Emphasize Responsibility
The Citizens for Pets in Condos group says that the "no-pets" people may be won over when they know that only responsible pet care will be tolerated. Thornton agrees, and adds that pet owners have to be careful to follow the rules, and make sure others in the community do as well.
"Pet-owning members of the association have to be vigilant," he says. "Don't make it necessary for the board to clamp down. I will pick up when I see a mess even if it's not from my dog. I don't want to step in it in the dark, for one thing, but more important I don't want to give the board a reason to restrict pets."
Thornton's advice rings true to me. I am as vocal an advocate for responsible pet ownership as I am about the benefits of having pets in our lives. I hope adding clearly delineated pet owner responsibilites to your argument will turn the tide in your favor.
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