BOOKS: Best Friends For Life
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2002:
Best Friends for Life: Humane housing for animals and people
Doris Day Animal League (227 Mass. Ave. NE, Suite 100, Washington,
DC 20002), 2002. 40 pages, paperback. $2.95.
The price of Best Friends for Life is certainly right:
individual copies are free. Ordering is quick and easy: call
202-546-1761, or send an e-mail to <email@example.com>.
Jointly published by the Doris Day Animal League and the
Massachusetts SPCA, Best Friends for Life updates and greatly
expands a manual originally issued in 1996. The first edition
covered only the right of disabled people to keep pets in federally
assisted housing. The first half of this edition revisits that
subject, adding discussion of recent relevant court cases. The
second half presents information useful to any tenant, any landlord,
and any organization which deals with the problems associated with
keeping pets in rental housing.
One of the organizations that compiled Best Friends for Life,
the MSPCA, has long been among the most successful innovators in
opening rental housing to petkeeping tenants. It offers
landlord/tenant advice that worked in Massachusetts, with a nod to
the even more ambitious and successful pet-friendly housing
initiatives of the San Francisco SPCA.
The other compiling organization, the Doris Day Animal
League, is among the national groups with the longest involvement in
support of neuter/return feral cat population control, and shares
much information from that perspective.
As feral cats are not mentioned in most other manuals about
animals and landlords, yet are perhaps the second most frequent
cause of landlord/tenant conflict, after barking dogs, this
addition–though containing nothing new to veteran cat rescuers–is
timely and necessary.
Best Friends for Life offers no specific information about
the peculiarities of keeping exotic predators, birds, reptiles,
fish, and hooved animals in rental accommodations. Few other
publications do, either. Relevant sections could be added to future
editions, as the ANIMAL PEOPLE files indicate that among the kinds
of animals-in-housing conflicts most likely to blow up into lawsuits
or other public incidents are neighbors’ discoveries of lions,
tigers, wolf hybrids, and other large predators in rented property;
birds making noise at dawn; flies attracted by bird excrement;
snakes escaping into other people’s apartments; fish tanks breaking
or overflowing; and noise and mess associated with keeping large
hooved animals in small back yards. The conflicts typically result
from a combination of irresponsibility on the part of the tenants,
objections from neighbors, and landlords who readily accept a tenant
with an unusual pet if the price is right, but are equally quick to
evict if reminded of a potential liability.
The major weakness of Best Friends for Life is that for
philosophical reasons, and perhaps in deference to the
vociferousness of pit bull terrier advocates, it categorically
opposes any sort of breed-specific restrictions on dog-keeping.
States a sidebar, “The MSPCA believes that breed-specific
bans are not an effective way to control dangerous or aggressive
dogs. A breed ban does not impact dogs of other breeds that may be
This is disingenuous, because dogs of breeds which
frequently kill and maim people and other animals in their first
known biting incidents are inherently more potentially dangerous than
dogs of breeds which rarely if ever kill or maim anyone–just as any
loaded gun is inherently more potentially dangerous than an unloaded
gun or no gun, no matter how carefully the gun is kept locked away.
Further, the existence of breed-specific regulation,
whether in a city or in a duplex, does not preclude also enforcing a
“comprehensive pet policy banning all dangerous or aggressive
animals,” of any breed or species, as the MSPCA and Best Friends
for Life recommend instead. The two concepts are not mutually
Best Friends for Life is correct in noting that in legal
terms, “pit bull terrier has proven to be particularly difficult to
define because it is used to describe many types of dogs, some of
which vary widely in appearance and size.”
This does not mean, however, that a landlord should be
given the implied choice of either accepting all dogs except those
individuals somehow officially deemed aggressive, or no
dogs–especially considering that landlords are liable for injuries
occurring on their property, and have often been sued for the
conduct of tenants’ dogs.
One such case before the courts right now resulted from the
failure of a San Francisco landlord to evict two Presa Canarios named
Bane and Hera from the apartment of Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller.
In January 2001, Bane and Hera killed neighboring tenant Diane
Even should the landlord prevail, as landlord Harrison
Aldrich did in a similar case decided on January 30 by the Maine
Supreme Court, the landlord must still bear the stress and expense
of fighting liability claims, and may lose insurance coverage if the
insurer decides that winning or losing, the landlord is incurring
unacceptable economic risk by accepting certain types of dog, big
dogs, or any dogs.
Insurers are at liberty to set breed-restrictive policies,
and often do. Landlords are at liberty to change insurers, but in
practice, that is not easily done in many areas, and landlords are
rarely at legal liberty to be uninsured. Therefore, the rental
policy choice is often between “all dogs” and “no dogs.”
Under that circumstance, “no dogs” or even “no pets” is by
far the safest choice. “No dogs” and “no pets” policies in turn deny
homes to somewhere between 4.3 million and 6.5 million dogs and cats
per year, according to data developed by pets-in-housing advocate
Ruth Smiler in a March 2000 ANIMAL PEOPLE guest column. These are
the numbers of additional pets who would be kept if renters in
pet-restricted housing were allowed to keep animals in the same
numbers as other renters, and/or kept animals in the same numbers as
home owners. Implicit in the numbers is that the number of pets who
might be adopted if renters were allowed to adopt is almost the same
or even larger than the number of dogs and cats who are killed each
year in U.S. shelters (currently about 4.6 million).
Considerable animal advocate confusion about the relevant
issues having to do with risk and principle may occur because all
dogs are, biologically speaking, members of a single species. No
such confusion occurs with cats because felis domesticus occurs only
in a relatively non-threatening size range. Hardly anyone has any
difficulty accepting that possession of a cat large enough to kill
and eat people and other pets of normal size should be regulated
differently from felis domesticus, because a cat that big is usually
a lion, a tiger, or a puma, each clearly a different species.
Domestic dogs, however, range from teacup poodles smaller than most
housecats up to Great Danes, who stand higher than any cat and can
outweigh a puma.
To confuse matters further, although all reputedly dangerous
dog breeds are large, size per se is not their distinguishing trait.
Presa Canarios and mastiffs are near the upper end of the size range,
but many breeds which rarely kill or injure anyone, such as St.
Bernards, are typically much bigger than pit bulls, Rottweilers,
and wolf hybrids.
As many legal and philosophical problems as these facts pose,
however, they no more mean that landlords–and legislators–should
treat all dogs as if they were the same than the fact that lions,
tigers, and pumas can also be trained to use a litter box means that
they should be regulated like felis domesticus. There are inherent
differences among breeds of dog, just as among species of cat,
which as a matter of common sense must be recognized and taken into
The alternative is to continue to pretend that it is mere
happenstance that pit bulls for 20 consecutive years have accounted
for approximately half of all the life-threatening and fatal dog
attacks in the U.S. and Canada, Rottweilers have accounted for
approximately 25%, and the other 95% of the dog population has
accounted for the remainder. Neither German shepherds, Dobermans,
chows, Akitas, huskies, nor any other breed has ever approached
doing a comparable level of mayhem, regardless of propensity to
inflict non-life-threatening bites–but a reasonable case can be made
that any breed of high bite risk should logically be housed with
greater care than breeds which rarely bite.
The idea behind pretending that all dogs are equal is
supposedly to save pit bull terriers, Rottweilers, et al from
“breed discrimination,” and thereby to save their lives. This is
not working. Forcing landlords and communities into “all dogs” or
“no dogs” choicemaking has not in the least diminished the numbers of
pit bulls and Rottweilers killed in animal shelters, which have
soared even as killing of all other dogs has plummeted. However,
this pretense is causing tens of thousands and perhaps hundreds of
thousands of other dogs to be killed because rented homes are closed
to them, whose doors might be open if the landlords were allowed to
say, “German shepherds, yes, if well behaved and kept under
control; pit bulls no,” because pit bulls who kill someone were
often well-behaved–perhaps better behaved than the average
dog–right up until the moment of the fatal attack.