The Insider’s Guide to Life: Pet Sounds

ColumnPets and landlords should mix. Discuss.

A neighbor in my building has adopted a new golden retriever puppy, and it can yelp with the best of them. With my front door facing the lobby stairway, it seems I can’t go an hour without hearing a bark or a floppy tumble down the stairs for yet another walk around the block. Apparently, golden retrievers need lots of walks. The other neighbors have written complaints, the dog’s owner has penned anxious apologies and tacked these shaky handwritten notes above the mail boxes, and it’s only a matter of time before the big dogs are called in – the landlords – and it’s tough luck in rent city.

On this general topic, it strikes me that the common practice by landlords of banning pets outright is more than a little ridiculous. Living life as a human being is a cost that should be included in the rent. For many, life brazenly includes a dog or cat. Landlords have been advised and in most places are required to avoid discrimination on the basis of children, marital status, ethnicity and sexual orientation, even occupation, yet when it comes to man’s best friend, we’re still oddly submissive to residential stinginess.

Over the years, I’ve noticed something. Landlords who allow pets are just nicer people. They tend to view their tenants as human beings rather than irritations. And it works both ways. A friend who is a freelance editor has managed an apartment building for over a decade and has learned that people with pets often make better tenants. They’re more conscious, more responsible, and more mature – and that makes for a happy lease all around. The tendency is so pronounced, she’s actually come to prefer rental candidates who own pets, carpet be damned.

These are only observations, and there are exceptions, of course. The quiet, respectful grad school student slaving over his dissertation would have a hard time committing to more than the composting of a pizza box, let alone caring for a pet. And some pet owners are simply obnoxious (cue the There’s Something About Mary scene with the leathered landlady and her dog, although, fair warning for the uninitiated, you cannot unsee). But my friend gets a private kick out of the shock prospective tenants show when they learn the generous news. Pet sounds? Now there’s an album I can live with. I think it’s sad more people can’t.

It’s true that cats may scratch and dogs may bark. It’s true that we should maintain a reasonable level of care and concern for tenant safety and comfort, as well as heed the necessities of upkeep. Since I can already hear the libertarians and grumpy people sharpening their keyboards (The property rights! The lawsuits! The repairs! The falling sky!), let me say no one is advocating looking the other way at a pit bull puppy mill or even a trouble-making tomcat. Fines and deposits are wonderful things. But stop and ask an honest question. Knowing how much healthier and happier people are when they live life with an animal companion, do we really feel like celebrating fewer smudges on the paint as if it’s some sort of profit? Those walls will need repainting, anyway. It’s the law.

If we let the actuary tables have their way, I fear we’ll soon see even the amiable goldfish banned on the grounds of potential mildew. Perhaps we could ban toddlers – they throw tantrums. Or teenage girls – they throw everything. While we’re at it, middle-schoolers – they haven’t yet learned about deodorant. I’d personally like to request banning Creepy Guy with The Pants and The One Who Goes Through Your Recycling. Also, Mormons, just because. Even some houseplants can be perniciously aggressive. The possibilities are really endless, for you can never be too mean!

“I’m just so relieved that I finally found a place that would take a dog,” a friend, Amanda, recently told me after an exhausting apartment hunt. She said this in a tone of such apologetic gratitude, you’d think the woman hustles a team of Huskies for a living. Not the case, although I’m sure her Boston terrier would give the Iditarod his very best effort. They’re such earnest little guys.

No dogs, no cats, no pets, no love. It’s not as if I can’t understand why landlords make such rules, and I don’t think petitioning for pet rights in the rental code is the winning approach (although never say never in California). The No Pets Allowed rule is mitigating risk, it’s just that it’s also mitigating one of the nicer things about humanity, and that’s responsibility. Besides, there comes a time when your orchid’s capacity for emotional support reaches its limit. In the interest of making the planet a better place, or at least a little less surreal, I’d like to remind everyone that control freaks don’t change the world.

My neighbor’s guilt over his puppy plight doesn’t make it any less annoying. It is a disturbance, but so is Facebook. This is all part of life, and if I can live with a digital poke, whatever that is, I think I can handle a canine.

All this is to say, it’s never too early to start planning. This holiday season, show your appreciation and give your landlord a pet.

This is the latest installment in your editor’s new column for 2011, The Insider’s Guide to Life, exploring topics such as media, culture, sex, politics, and style. If she’s got the strength for it, there will be more to come. Cheers and spellcheck!