Dog-friendly apartments shouldn't be so tough to find

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Dogs are a great reason for starting a conversation -- even in a big city like Chicago. My wife and I were walking our two dogs when and we happened upon a Soft Coated Wheaten terrier. At the other end of the leash, the dog's owners explained that they had just relocated from St. Louis, but nearly didn't move.

Perhaps they had second thoughts about the Windy City's famous winter weather. Or was it because the Chicago Cubs don't show as much promise for a World Series as their hometown Cardinals?

None of the above.

"We nearly couldn't find an apartment that allowed our dog, and we weren't going to consider relocating without him." They finally found a place after two visits to Chicago, pounding the pavement with an apartment-hunting service.

The owners might have saved time and gas money if they'd simply checked out Rent Social (http://www.rentsocial.com), a social network site for people interested in apartment living, and for those who currently reside in apartments. Renters from around the country talk to one another here, and one common topic is finding dog-friendly digs.

It turns out that an increasing number of landlords and management companies mandate random weight limits, so any dog over 12, 15, 20 pounds, or whatever the limit, is not welcome.

This reasoning is seriously flawed. The intimidating deep bark of a large dog is an effective deterrent to anyone who doesn't belong. In truth, it's those vertically-impaired dogs with a Napoleon complex who are likely to be the most yappy.

Landlords have even told me, "It's for their own good. Big dogs deserve a big house and yard to run; they don't belong in apartments."

In fact, the average Greyhound, Great Dane, or Newfoundland requires far less exercise than a little terrier. Let any dog out in a yard, and after a good sniff around, it's time for a nap. If not snoozing, bored dogs (of any size) may begin to bark in the yard, or jump over or dig under a fence.

I argue that apartment dwellers are more likely to take their pups for leash walks than dog owners living in houses. Walks offer dogs far more exercise than simply popping through a doggy door into the yard. And a walk is far more enriching, giving pets a chance to sniff out the neighborhood news.

In general, dogs walked regularly on a leash are more social because they grow up being social. So many people complain about not knowing their neighbors, but you never hear that where there are dogs. Dogs are a social lubricant.

For most people, even looking at a dog prompts a smile. Dogs spread a little happiness. Each time we smile, endorphins in our heads do a little happy dance. That's a healthy thing.

Here are more questions/comments I often hear about dogs in apartments or condos, and my responses:

--People have allergies.

SD: Dander doesn't fly off dogs and attack people, so unless you're in an enclosed place where the dog has been for a considerable period of time, there's no issue. If you don't want to sneeze, don't pet the dog or visit the dog owner's apartment.

--Not all dogs are friendly.

SD: Most dogs, particularly those socialized in big cities, are friendly, but I'm not opposed to levying a "friendly dog deposit" until a pet has passed the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen's (CGC) Test, a basic obedience and temperament test offered by dog trainers around the country. Of course, it's only right to return the deposit when the pup passes.

--What about people who are afraid of dogs? They have rights, too.

SD: I agree that all dogs much be kept on-leash and in the owners' control at all times. In elevator buildings, people fearful of dogs can wait for another elevator.

--What about those irresponsible owners who allow dogs off-leash or don't pick up after them?

SD: What does the apartment management or condo association currently do about people who toss trash in common areas, or disobey other building rules? All apartments and condos already have policies in place; it's a matter of enforcement. In fact, overall, landlords suggest complaints about rowdy children and loud music are far more common than grievances about dogs.

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)

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