When the Dog Decides Where You Live
Last year, Kaitlin and Ben Fund decided to give up their rental near Penn Station and look for an apartment several blocks south of the commuter tumult. It was a perfectly understandable decision, but the couple worried about how the move would affect their golden retriever, Hobie.
Three-year-old Hobie had been a regular at the New York Dog Spa and Hotel on West 25th Street since puppyhood, “and we all really liked it,” said Ms. Fund, 27, who works at a public relations firm.
“When we bought Hobie,” she continued, “we promised ourselves that because he’s a big dog we would send him to day care so he wouldn’t be cooped up at home with nothing to do.” Hobie’s hangout was a very manageable six blocks away from the Funds’ old apartment; it opened early and closed late, an important consideration for the couple, who work long hours.
They found one-bedrooms they liked in TriBeCa, but kept bumping up against the same issue: The nearest dog-minding places were a 25-minute walk away — fine for Hobie, fine for them in summer, much more burdensome for all concerned in winter.
“And the facilities weren’t that nice. They were sort of smelly,” Ms. Fund said.
Finally, they lucked into a rental a mere block and a half from Hobie’s old day care. “It worked out incredibly well,” said Ms. Fund, who sees nothing strange about her priorities. “Hobie is a huge part of our lives, and he goes with us just about everywhere.”
Apartment-hunting New Yorkers have their wish lists — a view, a formal dining room, a roof deck — and their roster of must-haves — a doorman, a gym, a storage bin, a bedroom that can hold more than a cot. But for a certain breed of pet owners, Fido’s needs take precedence over their silly human desires.
As a consequence, these people give a wide berth to apartments and neighborhoods they themselves might prefer, buy or rent larger apartments than they might otherwise require, and, in a few instances, take a big financial hit for a change of address.
“Many people who don’t have children view their pets as their children, and they consider their pets’ needs in the same way others would consider how the schools or playgrounds are in a particular neighborhood,” said Arlene Kagle, a psychologist who recently moved from New York to Richmond, Va., with her husband, Jerry Lerner, and their dog, Lucy. For the record, Lucy had no say in her owners’ housing decisions.
“These are people who have a great deal of empathy,” Dr. Kagle said, “so they worry about their pets as they would worry about another human being — though some have been known to carry it to extremes.”
That group might well include the couple whose elderly dog had a pet peeve about being stuck in New York traffic. “They had a weekend house and they wanted their primary residence to be close to the F.D.R. so they could get out of town quickly for the sake of the dog, because otherwise he would get very stressed,” said Barbara J. Dervan, an associate broker at Fox Residential Group. The solution: an apartment on East End Avenue.
“Not all clients who have pets are intense,” Ms. Dervan added. “But over the last five to eight years, even people who don’t have pets have shied away from buildings with a no-pet policy. It takes away the option of buyers to change their mind about pet ownership in the future. And when they go to resell their apartment there are fewer people willing to look at it.”
Some newly developed condos and rentals have been responding to the pet-possessed with far more than a pet-friendly policy. There are on-site day care and dog-walking services and grooming stations. Such amenities were partly what inspired Bert Saville to rent at MiMA, a mixed-use high-rise in Hell’s Kitchen.
Three years ago, when Mr. Saville, 39, a marketing manager at Pernod Ricard U.S.A., the wine and spirits company, moved to New York from Miami, he knew what he wanted: a walk-up, preferably in a brownstone; failing that, an apartment on a high floor with a grand view of the city. Dreams, dreams, idle dreams. None of this was going to work for Wesley, Mr. Saville’s harlequin Great Dane. Climbing stairs would have been tough on Wesley’s legs, so an elevator building was a must. But an apartment high in the sky, Mr. Saville’s preference, wouldn’t have served Wesley’s needs, either.
“I wouldn’t say I’m ruled by my dog, but I have to give up a certain number of things because of him,” Mr. Saville said. Despite his own preferences for an eyeful of cityscape and sky, he looked for a vacancy on the lowest floor available.
“Elevators can stop at every floor and when there’s an emergency and Wesley’s got to go, being able to get out of the building quickly was important.” Also important: a bedroom large enough to accommodate a California king bed — another Wesley-driven necessity, because the dog bunks down with Mr. Saville. Oh, and the apartment had to have a washer and dryer. It seems that Wesley sheds.
MiMA offered another advantage: location, location, location. Mr. Saville’s office is near Grand Central; he can hop on the 7 train at lunch and get home in short order to spend some quality midday time with Wesley. “I consider him my child,” Mr. Saville said.
That’s exactly how Kristen Ruby feels about Caicos, her 11-month old white teacup Pomeranian. And parents make sacrifices for their children, which is why Ms. Ruby, 29, the head of a public relations company, is staying put in Lower Manhattan even though she’d rather move back to Greenwich, Conn., where she lived for three years and where most of her clients are based.
“I think the No. 1 thing is proximity to the dog walker you’ve established a relationship with,” Ms. Ruby said. “I think it would be mean to Caicos if I packed him up and left and introduced him to a new dog walker. He has play dates with the dog walker. The dog walker takes him to the vet. Not everyone understands how important that is when you’re thinking about where to live.”
And, almost certainly, a move out of the city would put Caicos in social jeopardy. The people who came to his six-month birthday bash, a celebration that included party hats, “wouldn’t go all the way to Greenwich for his next party,” Ms. Ruby said.
Dogs, of course, are not the only animals that can bend New Yorkers to their will. If it weren’t for Justin, a very assertive eclectus parrot, and to a lesser extent, Tammy, a conure, Geri Mazur could live in a co-op and not a condo, a more expensive option. “But,” she said, “it’s very unlikely that a co-op would approve me with a squawking parrot.”
And if it weren’t for Justin, whose full name is Justin Case, Ms. Mazur, 56, a marketing consultant, would not need two bedrooms. “But I work from home,” she said. “I’d have my desk in the living room, but he’s so jealous he screams when I’m on the phone and it’s very disruptive. I have to go into another room and close the door. If you think about it, he’s costing me an extra $300,000.”
When Joanne Floyd, an anesthesiologist, and Jeffrey Bilotta, a gastroenterologist, moved from New York to Terre Haute, Ind., 25 years ago, “it was self-inflicted exile,” said Dr. Floyd, 60. “We’d always planned to come back when we retired, which we did last year.” With them came Mick, a 15-year-old English cocker spaniel.
Here is all you need to know about the family dynamic: “If the dog isn’t happy, we’re miserable,” Dr. Floyd said.
The couple thought about living downtown, but “there are so many people on the sidewalks we thought it would be terrible to walk a dog down there,” Dr. Floyd said. She and Dr. Bilotta, 65, ultimately settled on the Upper East Side, partly because of the wide, relatively unpopulated sidewalks, partly because of the proximity to Central Park and partly because it was a straight shot to the Animal Medical Center on East 62nd Street. “We did consider the location of our vet, because Mick had been ill at one time and we had to drive several hours in Indiana to get him treatment,” Dr. Floyd said.
They purchased their apartment — two bedrooms, 2,000 square feet — with Mick in mind. The couple took due note of the short walk for Mick and company from their door to the service elevator and the express trip it provided to the great outdoors.
“We talk about what we would do differently if we were dog-free, and one of the things we would do is have a smaller place in New York and travel more,” Dr. Floyd said. “It’s bigger because of Mick. We wanted to have more room for him to roam.” And after all, Mick does have six inner tube-size beds scattered throughout the apartment: two in the master bedroom, two in the den and two in the living room.
Michelle Mahoney, a 20-year resident of Manhattan, gave Westport, Conn., a try for a few years. As part of the experiment in suburban living, she and her husband, Fred Salkind, 54, the executive creative director of a design agency, acquired two canines, Ravello, now 3, a Bernese mountain dog, and Stevie, also 3, a mixed-breed rescue dog.
A year or so ago, when the commute became onerous, the couple decided to return to the city, and bought a loft in Dumbo, Brooklyn, “because with the waterfront we thought it might feel like Connecticut, even though our preference was to live on the Upper West Side,” said Ms. Mahoney, 45, a freelance television producer.
But almost immediately, Ravello became terrified of the bridges near her new home, and all the attendant noise. “She would lie in the lobby of our building trying to work up the courage to go outside,” Ms. Mahoney said. “The other residents didn’t appreciate it and the building threatened legal action.”
“She started getting urinary tract infections because she wouldn’t go outside to do her business and then she started having accidents. She just shut down.”
After four frantic months, Ms. Mahoney and Mr. Salkind put their loft on the market. They closed on the sale this past May, losing a six-figure sum. Their new home is a 1,446-square-foot one-bedroom duplex in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where Ravello has quick and easy access to a patio. “I’d be happy in 700 square feet, but we went for a bigger apartment so the dogs would have room to play,” Ms. Mahoney said.
She makes little of the assault on the family bank account — “we were willing to do what we did at whatever cost so our dogs could be safe” — and makes no apologies for the decisions she and her husband made for the sake of their pets. “Some people think I’m crazy, but if you’re a dog person, you totally get it,” Ms. Mahoney said. “When I got Ravello and Stevie, I promised to protect them, and if it means selling an apartment, that’s O.K.”
Ms. Mazur, seeking a change, recently sold her apartment in Park Slope. She is in contract to buy another condo, in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. But she worries that the living room in her new place will be too small for Justin and Tammy. “It’s a real estate issue,” she said. Her living room must accommodate the sofa, the entertainment console, the dining table and the two bird cages, one of which is the size of a refrigerator.
“Because of Justin, I’m constrained about where I can live and what kind of apartment I can live in, but I won’t give him up,” Ms. Mazur added. “He has a great vocabulary and he understands context. He’s an amazing creature.”
This amazing creature calls Ms. Mazur “Mommy.” “If I don’t answer, he says ‘Are you sleeping?’ ” she said.
“You make a lot of accommodations for a pet like that. It shows he loves me, and I don’t have to pay for college.”