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March 16, 2006

Fins & feathers

Some pets are better suited to condo living than others

L. Sara Bysterveld

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It seems that nothing can turn neighbours against one another faster than problem pets – especially in a condo building.

Whether it is a smelly dog, a nosey cat or a noisy macaw, that beloved creature can cause big problems.

Luckily, condo dwellers do have recourse when it comes to complaints like these. You can take your concerns to the board, who may in turn ban one specific pet, ban pets altogether, or rule that no new pets are allowed in the building. Of course, ideally, these conflicts will never come up in the first place.

Condo buyers should look at the board’s rules (if there is a board in place) before moving in, or even before buying if it is important to them. If you move in before a board has been appointed, and pets are an issue you feel strongly about, you will want to attend the board meetings once they begin, so your opinions can be heard.

If you are already living in a condo and thinking of buying a pet, you do have a few options. For instance, not all dogs cause problems in condos. It tends to be more of an issue of training. “If you get them young enough, you can teach any dog to be quiet,” says Todd Bemister, store manager at the Macleod Trail SW Petland. He suggests breeds that don’t need as much exercise; for instance, a pug or a Boston terrier rather than a border collie. He also points out that the barking instinct won’t kick in with traditional watchdog breeds if they don’t have access to windows.

Townhome communities do tend to be more tolerant of dogs, though many have weight restrictions to limit size.

Condo expert and realtor Gerald Rotering says that while he feels no pet makes a good pet in a condo, he has never heard a complaint about a cat. Ulrike Thomas, who lives in a multi-building, apartment-style condo community in the northwest, has, however, had cat problems in the past. “I was sitting out on my balcony last summer,” she says, “When this cat came along and knocked my plate off the table.” The solution in this situation is simple: ensure that your cat stays inside your condo.

Perhaps the best pet options in a condo are fish, birds and reptiles. They are quiet, take up relatively little space and don’t need to be walked.

Wayne Woo, co-owner of Riverfront Aquariums, points out that most condominiums have a restriction on the size of fish tanks, and that in some condos this limit is around 100-150 gallons. Even with a limit, there are a lot of options, depending on how much you want to spend on equipment and fish.

At the low end of the price and size spectrum, buyers can get a small, five gallon tank with all the basic accessories and equipment they need, plus fish, for as low as $150.

On the other end, fish-lovers can shell out for a custom-designed tank made of “starfire,” an ultra-clear glass, or, for high-traffic areas, an acrylic tank. For the condo-dweller who is looking for ultra-low maintenance and has the cash to pay for it, there are completely automated systems, or you can hire someone to maintain your tank when you don’t have the time.

Freshwater systems cost less than marine systems, and marine systems tend to be more successful in a larger tank, says Woo. Options for aquatic creatures range from goldfish, guppies and betas to crayfish, crabs, frogs and toads.

When it comes to birds, think small and quiet – Bemister says that Petland stores won’t allow large birds to be taken home to small condos. There is a lengthy questionnaire to be filled out at Petland before you can buy any pet, and buyers must present their condo agreement before their purchase is approved. Bemister recommends budgies, canaries, cockatiels and finches as good choices for condos.

Reptiles are another pet that can be compatible with condo living. Bemister points out that the crickets needed as food used to be a problem for lizard-owners living in apartments and condos, because they would get loose. Luckily, a new contraption called a cricket keeper has eliminated this problem.

Rotering’s opinion that “if you want lots of pets, get a house” is shared by many. While some animals are fine pets for a condo, the best option is probably to stick to a small number of compatible pets. For instance, as Rotering points out, cats are notorious for pulling aquariums off of shelves. Be sure to consider how different species will interact before attempting to assemble a menagerie.

Whichever type of pet you decide to shop for, the experts agree that you should do your research before you make a decision. Look online, read some books, and try pet stores or online forums to find opinions from other pet owners, especially people who also live in condos.  CL

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