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Man's best friend can make finding a new home a doggone chore

Aug. 17--This spring, at what should have been a joyous time in her life, Dorothy Cardoso was instead frantic. She was newly married -- and within a week of being homeless.

Knowing that she, her husband, Adilson, and her teenage daughter, Jamie Lee, would need a larger home after the wedding, Cardoso gave her landlord in Clifton Park notice that she intended to find another apartment. A month was plenty of time, she thought.

She made a dozen calls. Two dozen. Five dozen. Every answer was the same: You've got a dog? Sorry, no dogs allowed. The few landlords and complexes she found that would allow dogs also had size or weight restrictions. Others were tentatively willing until they found out that the dog in question, no matter how sweet-tempered Cardoso promised her to be, was a 110-pound Rottweiler named Janis Joplin.

"I couldn't believe how hard it was," Cardoso says. "I must have made 150 calls. I really was almost homeless. I thought we were going to have to move in with my mom or send the dog to her."

Policy takes a toll

Moving and landlord issues are the top two reasons dogs are surrendered to animal shelters, meaning that housing difficulties are the single largest contributor to the more than 9 million pets euthanized by shelters annually, according to the National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy. Pet advocates say the problem is getting worse, adding that landlords in our region of the country are notably less dog-friendly than places like the Northwest.

"I moved here from Seattle, where there are dog parks in every neighborhood and just about every landlord is OK with dogs," says Cathy Blanch, a public-relations consultant and jazz singer who came to the Capital Region three years ago. Arriving with no place to live, Blanch intended to stay with friends briefly while securing an apartment for herself and Duncan, a 6-year-old chocolate Lab.

After making well more than 100 inquiries, Blanch says, "I was getting really dismayed. Nobody was pet-friendly, and I even had somebody ask, 'Would you consider getting rid of your dog?' I was shocked and was like, 'You're kidding, right? That's my child.'"

Many landlords fear pet problems

A half-dozen landlords with apartments or houses available for rent, but not to dog owners, were contacted for this story. Most did not want to be quoted by name, fearing that being singled out as dog-unfriendly might make them subject to harassment. But all cited the same nexus of reasons: the possibility of damage inside and out at their rental properties, and the potential for conflict with other tenants in multifamily buildings, whether from barking, droppings or attacks.

"I have two very large dogs at home, and they're my world, but I will not allow pets at our rental properties," says Nikki Hart, owner of Hart Real Estate in East Greenbush. "I love animals, I contribute to the ASPCA and the Humane Society, but you're opening up too many cans of worms if you allow pets. You just don't know what kind of pet owner somebody is going to be."

Hart advertises her properties on the local Craigslist site, where more than 700 current ads -- a minority, but a significant one -- include some variation of "no dogs" or "no pets."

She says, "I might consider (allowing a pet) with the right situation," such as a one-family home with longtime tenants, but never with multi-unit properties or new tenants.

"I could never ask somebody who had a dog to get rid of it if there was a problem," Hart says, "so I just don't get into that situation in the first place."

Cardoso, her husband, daughter and Janis Joplin moved into a townhouse near the apartment complex they once called home but which they couldn't live in now anyway: It has banned dogs. Their new home, for which Cardoso says she had to "plead," came at a price: "Between rent and the security (deposit) and extra for the dog, it cost us $5,000 to move in here."

Blanch's search for a dog-friendly home took two months, exacerbated by her requirement that her new place have a body of water nearby for Duncan, her swim-mad Lab. She finally found a brownstone in downtown Rensselaer with easy access to the Hudson. The son of the owner, who lives in one of the building's other units, has a dog.

"It really felt like God was opening a door for me to find this place. I was so desperate," says Blanch, who plans to stay put: "It was such a headache the first time around, I'm not going to move again until I buy a house."

Steve Barnes can be reached at 454-5489 or by e-mail at sbarnes@timesunion.com. Visit his blog at http://blogs.timesunion.com/tablehopping.

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