I love my pets, and I know how companion animals of all kinds enrich our measly human lives. I do pro bono work for an organization called Amie’s Place Foundation, the mission of which is to prevent the forced separation of people and their pets, particularly in times of crisis and illness. There have been numerous studies done that prove that, especially among the elderly, pets enable their owners to stay more active, mentally and physically, as well as more measureable impacts like lowered blood pressure. The work supported by this fine organization resonates very deeply with me, and I am even more conscious of it now after having learned first-hand how difficult it is to find rental units (or even owned co-op units where there’s a controlling board that makes rules the residents have to live by) that will permit you to have even one pet, of small size, let alone more than one, of any species, breed or dimension.
In NYC, there is a movement – in fact, an entire cottage industry – to get pets certified as emotional support animals (or ESAs) so that landlords and management companies can’t force them (or the owner) out. Unlike service animals (which at present are limited to dogs and mini-horses specially trained to assist their owners with specific disabilities – seeing-eye dogs, for example, or diabetes detectors), an ESA is an animal (typically a dog or cat but also other species) that provides a therapeutic benefit – such as emotional support and comfort to individuals with psychiatric disabilities and other mental impairments – to its owner through companionship. ESAs are not automatically granted access to places of public accommodation, but under federal law an ESA is considered a “reasonable accommodation” in a housing unit that has a “no pets” rule for its residents. [Rebecca F. Wisch, “FAQs on Emotional Support Animals,” Michigan State University College of Law, Animal Legal and Historical Center, https://www.animallaw.info/article/faqs-emotional-support-animals#s2.%5D
At the other end of the spectrum, there are more and more companies (I imagine mostly in the country’s “hipster earmuffs” of Silicon Valley and Brooklyn) that permit – nay, encourage – people to bring their doggies to work. (For a great overview, see Jeff Daniels, “Pooch Perk: More Companies Embracing Pet-Friendly Office Policy”, NBC News website, October 17, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/business/careers/pooch-perk-more-companies-embracing-pet-friendly-office-policy-n445931, or the adorable “Pets at Work” videos from Purina on YouTube, which, unsurprisingly, is a pet-friendly workplace.) How much better we humans can focus on work when we have our happy pets nearby!! I work from home, and my animals are always surrounding me, at my feet, sometimes on the desk itself (I’m looking at you, Luna!) And I love when Savannah comes over and stands up with one paw on my knee and the other one reaching out to me for chin chucks and head bumps to break up the work day. It soothes me deep inside.
True, having my pets around me at all times is not all bubblegum and lollipops: It also drives me crazy when the boys start barking for no apparent reason (not apparent to ME, anyway) and no amount of “Enough already!” will get them to stop, which is why I’ve taken to keeping a spray water bottle at the ready, especially now that I need to keep the noise to a minimum in consideration of my neighbors. It’s less of an issue when we’re in our home, of course; then they’re just annoying ME.
Yes, there are myriad benefits to having pets. There are also the monetary costs for daily maintenance – such as food, litter, toys and other entertainment —and those very large special expenses – such as pet meds (which I understand more people are buying discounted online these days but I have yet to figure that out) and veterinary care for acute and chronic health issues. There’s pet insurance, but it doesn’t really work the same way or cover as much as human medical insurance (and we all know how well THAT works). I love my vet, All Creatures in Long Beach, NY, and they do give me a multi-pet discount, but they are VERY expensive. Fortunately, while it can be a financial burden at times (most recently, $450 for an EKG to diagnose Mimi’s heart murmur), I can cover the costs. But how many people neglect to get medical care for pets who need it simply because they cannot afford it? I believe it’s one of the largest reasons people give up their pets (or don’t adopt in the first place). My Gizmo is likely a victim of just that situation. The way I’ve heard his story (although I don’t have all the facts) is, after getting hit by a car, his so-called “family” of 4 years turned him in to the kill shelter rather than get him the needed veterinary care. Those people are jerks who don’t deserve to have a dog, for starters (and Gizmo’s got the emotional scars and trust issues to prove it), but if vet care had been free or low-cost at, say, a local clinic, or if there were a way for them to get financial help with serious vet bills, they might have decided they could afford to get him the help he needed.
Another prohibitive cost is for training, which would benefit ALL dogs (and their owners), provided that there’s follow-through. (I once spent $500 on weeks of intensive training for a dog with serious separation anxiety only to completely abandon everything I’d learned after we were done with our sessions – so of course the dog did as well.) Here in Long Beach, the wonderful Marty Aynat and his LB Dogs crew give free weekly training clinics for dogs of all breeds, sizes and temperaments, although I admit I have not managed to bring my naughty boys over yet. I suspect they may need a “private lesson”, especially Gizmo, of whom it could never be said that he is friendly to – or even tolerant of – other dogs.
But the biggest hurdle of all to the universal acceptance of people’s pets, and dogs in particular ? Irresponsible pet owners – that is, people who don’t clean up after their dogs do their business, leaving disease-carrying poop behind on public sidewalks and even other people’s property. It’s infuriating. I would love for my dogs to be allowed on the beach, or even the Boardwalk, but because a few bad apples don’t pick up after their dogs, the rest of us (who DO pick up after our dogs) are not allowed to enjoy the perks of Long Beach living. It takes so little! Just bring a baggie, and when the dog poops, put the bag around your hand like a glove and pick it up!! Then find the nearest garbage pail – preferably a public one, but I’m sure a resident will mind less a tied up poop bag in his or her garbage can than big chunks of doodie on his or her lawn or driveway. Is it really so difficult?
You also hear about horrendous cases of hoarding, like the recent cases in New Jersey, one where a couple had upwards of 250 dogs (how is that even POSSIBLE?) and the other lady with the 80+ cats. These are isolated and unusual incidents, so disturbing that they’re worthy of being mentioned on the local 11 o’clock news. But are these oddballs at the root of why landlords and management companies are so reluctant to let people with more than one pet to live in their buildings? Chances are good that the pet owner is not a hoarder and will maintain a clean environment (and hopefully the dog or dogs will not carry on barking too much, as they are wont to do when they’re left alone bored most of the day), so people – and their pets – should be entitled to live wherever they’d like.
The bottom line is that, if pet owners want to be able to have their pets in all manner of residential and shared public environments, it’s up to the owners to be RESPONSIBLE. Clean up after your pets. Take them to the vet and make sure they’re current on their vaccines. Keep them on a leash and control them around children and other pets. (It really burns me when a person – usually a guy – says of his leash-less dog, “Oh, he won’t do anything,” and then the dog immediately and aggressively approaches my little pups and needs to be grabbed just in time.) Better yet, get them trained. It is a big commitment to have a pet, and the vast majority of pet owners are caring, responsible people. But as with most things that are part and parcel of sharing our planet with other creatures (including other humans), we need to be more aware of how our actions impact others. I believe pets can make us better people, if we let them.