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Are People Who Live in Dog-Friendly Buildings Happier?


People who own dogs live longer. They’re healthier. They’re calmer. Their children are less prone to allergies. And they have government-sanctioned reasons to leave the house while sheltering in place.

But what about real estate? Are people who live in pet-friendly buildings happier? Are their apartments more valuable?

Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that they are.

Dogs aren’t big on social distancing. They lick, sniff and slobber on one another — and on people — in elevators, lobbies and common areas in pet-friendly buildings. Conversation, friendships and romance between owners often form as a result.

“Pets are playful, so buildings with pets have more colors and are brighter and more fun to live in. Pets add vibrancy,” said Dr. Zaynab Satchu, a veterinarian in New York. “Dogs bridge the gap between busy people who wouldn’t otherwise meet.”

Dr. Satchu said she wouldn’t know 80 percent of her Brooklyn neighbors were it not for Tillie, her mini-goldendoodle.

A lot of other dog owners agree. “My social life doubled when I got a dog,” said Lara Benusis, who lives in Long Island City with Kim-Chee, a Pomeranian terrier. Ms. Benusis is in a Ph.D. program in bio-behavioral sciences and teaches yoga.

Before she began sheltering-in-place, Candy Pilar Godoy, a freelance photography producer who lives in Hell’s Kitchen, wrote about her travels with her two dogs, Boogie, a pug, and Marcelo, a Chihuahua.

“I speak to my neighbors who have dogs way more than I speak to the others,” Ms. Godoy said. “We exchange tips, see each other at the local dog park, and our dogs are even friends. They stop to say hello and sniff each other in the hallway. The camaraderie of being dog lovers makes us allies — especially at board meetings.”

So maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise when a well-established New York building changed its policies after decades of refusing to allow pets.

Stewart House, a white-brick residential co-op building in Greenwich Village with more than 350 apartments, took the plunge two years ago. It has large apartments with gracious layouts, and lots of closets, an enclosed garden, on-site parking and other white glove amenities.

Informally known among realtors as the “House of No,” Stewart House has long enforced various restrictive rules: no washer-dryers, no sublets, no guarantors, no pieds-à-terre, and, no pets. (At one point in the building’s history, hamsters and fish were outlawed as well as dogs and cats.)

But, in 2018, Stewart House relaxed its policy and for the first time since it opened in 1960, allowed dogs, at least certain kinds of dogs. (Cats, birds, fish, frogs, turtles, tortoises, lizards, guinea pigs, chinchillas and gerbils are also allowed, subject to the building’s application and approval process and governing rules.)

Erin Hussein, the co-op board president who also works in alumni relations, said the change was prompted by the building’s interest “in being more inclusive, and more responsive to a wider range of tenants, some of whom want dogs.” Many shareholders say the change also had to do with service dogs, which are protected by New York housing law. As such, several service dogs were earlier able to sidestep the ban and move into the building.

Changing the rules and allowing dogs — subject to breed and size restrictions — gave the building power to control the types of dogs allowed in the building. Dogs that weigh 30 pounds or more are not allowed. Neither are Dobermans, Rottweilers or toy poodles. Dachshunds, chow chows, Jack Russell terriers, Old English sheepdogs, Lhaso Apsos and Dalmatians and other breeds considered “excessively prone to barking or being aggressive,” are also prohibited. (Ms. Hussein noted that the building also limits residents to two cats, “and you can only have two hamsters.”)

Well-attended, full-building meetings in the Stewart House lobby preceded the change. There were raised voices, heartfelt exchanges. Stephen Perlo, a dog-less Stewart House resident and an agent at Corcoran, said: “People were fearful, especially people who don’t have dogs, afraid of what might or could happen if the building were overrun with dogs, but that hasn’t happened.”

The changes resulted in no more than a few dozen new canine neighbors. The new neighbors were “Labs, doodles, very small dogs, the kind you see in most apartment buildings,” said Summer Zimberg, a Stewart House board member and a broker at Brown Harris Stevens. “The dogs have brought an overwhelmingly welcoming, inclusive and modern feel to the building,” she said. “The vibe in the building has changed. It’s a friendlier place, more social.”

Dogs often play the dual roles of member of the clan and social ambassador, especially in New York City.

“For many people, pets are members of the family, sometimes the only friend or family a person has,” said Karen Copeland, a New York lawyer who specializes in animal issues, including housing, custody and discrimination cases, and dangerous-dog proceedings. She said that New York housing and civil rights laws are increasingly protective of pet owners’ rights; as a result, she said, “Manhattan has pretty much gotten to be a pet-friendly little island.”

Pet amenities — including on-site spas, roof top runs, “yappy hours,” a bone-shaped swimming pool for dogs — in some of the city’s new rental buildings suggest just how pet friendly Manhattan has become.

Jonathan Miller, the president of Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers & Consultants, said that approximately 70 percent of all New York apartment sales are in pet-friendly buildings and that the number has remained fairly constant since 2011.

Brokers say more and more buyers want to live in pet-friendly buildings, and that the law of supply and demand suggests these buildings enjoy enhanced value.

“Are pets allowed? That’s the first thing potential buyers ask when I show them an apartment,” said Susan Abrams, an agent with Warburg Realty. “If one in three people have a dog or may want one, that eliminates one in three buyers” for the non-pet-friendly buildings.

In addition to improving their owners’ social lives, dogs have also proven to be good for business.

“Having a dog in New York is life-changing,” said Joanne Greene, a Brown Harris Stevens broker, who said Mac, her three-year-old labradoodle is “the service dog I didn’t know I needed.” Ms. Greene said she too has a new social life, thanks to Mac, and has also done business with neighbors she met through him. “I just sold an apartment to someone I met because Mac likes Ginger,” a neighboring hound.

Then there are the opportunities for dogs to play matchmakers.

“Dogs create warmth,” according to Pearson Marx, a writer who lives in a pet-friendly building on the Upper East Side with Cleo, a pit bull mix she adopted from a kill shelter. “They are instant icebreakers.”

In New York, Ms. Marx said, doormen have assumed the function neighbors once had. “If your husband has a heart attack, or there is a giant cockroach in your apartment, you call the doorman, not your neighbor. We are so busy looking at our phones, rushing around, most of us don’t even know who are neighbors are — unless you have a dog.”

Ms. Marx credits Cleo with introducing her a few years ago to a tall lovely man who lives in her building. The man liked Cleo and wanted a dog, but didn’t know if he had the time to care for a pet. Ms. Marx told him that just about any dog in a shelter would cut off its right paw to have just 10 minutes of his time.

Soon after, she saw the man walking a rescue dog of his own. “It was the beginning of a lovely, comforting friendship,” Ms. Marx said. “We look out for each other,” adding that her new friend even set her up with a dog rescuer whom she dated for a while.

The coronavirus has given rise to an enormous demand for companion animals, so much so that it may now be easier to find a vacant apartment than a dog to foster.

On its website, the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City said it is currently closed to the public, but noted that there was an urgent need for loving cat adopters in the Los Angeles area.

The transformation of Stewart House into a pet-friendly building was made after the careful consideration of shareholders who both did and did not have pets.

The residents with dogs have formed an informal community group and look out for one another, said Lori Solomon, one of the members of the group. When she broke her arm and couldn’t walk Marley, a cockapoo, several of her new friends in the building helped out.

Anita Isola, a retired lawyer who does not have a dog, said, “The dogs open up connections,” adding that she has met many neighbors since the dogs arrived and keeps a bone in her apartment for her favorite pup who sometimes comes to visit.

The board implemented a series of rules to protect the interests of non-pet-friendly neighbors. Building rules require owners to use the service elevator and prohibit lingering in the lobby, and prohibit nonresident dogs from entering the building at any time, even with a paid dog walker.

Dog owners say they hear occasional grumbling and, especially when it is wet outside, get dirty looks in the elevators. One tenant mentioned complaints about owners and dogs hanging around the doorman’s station, in violation of the building’s rules prohibiting lingering in common areas. As a result, doormen are no longer allowed to give the dogs bones.

But the consensus, even among those who opposed the change, seems to be that changing the pet policy at Stewart House was a matter of keeping up with the times.

“Sure, there are people who have allergies or are scared of dogs. We’re living it,” said Martin Tessler, a retired businessman and a self-described member of the old guard (many of whom bought into the building because it did not allow pets). “I’m not complaining, just observing that things change.”

Dogs, in the view of some, don’t just make people happier, they make them better.

Rabbi Gadi Capela, of the Congregation Tifereth Israel in Greenport, N.Y., moved from Manhattan to Long Island a couple of years ago. He believes that dogs bring us closer to God.

“Dogs don’t stand on ceremony. They accept you as you are,” the rabbi said. “They do not carry grudges. They are happy creatures who live in the moment. God wants us to live in the moment. Dogs teach us how.”

Rabbi Capela’s personal teacher: Chaya, a Chihuahua poodle terrier mix.

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