2018-02-07 / Opinions & Letters

Doggone rules

Midwest Memo
by Alan Shultz

Our little apartment in Chicago is in a building of 960 total units. The population of the building is about 2,000 folks. The place is really the equivalent of a small city just smooched up into one large container.

The building has a lot of rules. There are rules for remodeling. Work is limited to Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Only licensed contractors are permitted and remodeling plans must be approved in advance. Tradesmen must use the two service elevators in back.

There are rules about noise which my neighbor on my north wall violates regularly. I’ve complained to her directly a few times, but mostly I ignore her un-neighborly ways.

There are rules about using one’s balcony, rules about grilling, rules about dropping weights in the gym. There are no smoking rules, no holiday decorations on unit doors, no boots in the hallway. Name a subject, we’ve got a rule.

I’ve got a theory on why 960 households can, for the most part, live in relative harmony in one building. The rules help guide that relative harmony but they certainly don’t guarantee it. My theory is folks have chosen this building for their home. For the most part they are simply courteous and considerate to their neighbors in this community where they have chosen to live. It’s that simple.

I have a neighbor on my floor who I particularly like. I’ll call her Betty. Betty has a little fluffy white dog. To protect the innocent, I’ll call the dog Fido. Betty and Fido have been my neighbors for many years.

Our building has lots and lots of rules about dogs. Dogs must be under 40 pounds to live in the building; they must not run loose in the hallways; they cannot bark all day long. Dogs must be restrained on their leashes, must not pee on the premises, they must travel on the service elevators in back and they must go in and out the side doors, not through the front lobby.

The rules make it nice for everybody, including the dogs.

Of all the rules, I’d say that the rules regarding dogs are right there up at the top of those strictly enforced. Over the years, on our floor alone, four dogs have been evicted. Each had his or her own sad story of rule infractions. But out the door and off the premises the dogs went, never to return. Case closed.

Recently, though, something changed on our floor and in my routine. Betty and Fido have joined me in the front passenger elevator and exiting out the front lobby door, right alongside me. Whereas before, when we happened to travel together, it would be in the service elevator and out the side door - per the rules.

I checked with management, and the rules haven’t changed. Nothing has changed, except that recently Fido has sported a new dog sweater and the sweater does not say “Fido,” it says “service dog.”

Under Federal Fair Housing rules, service dogs are working dogs and not pets. In one housing seminar I attended, the instructor told us to view these animals as “medical devices,” rather than dogs. This means that even if a building has a no pet policy, the service dog must be accepted because it is technically not a dog. And if a building has a pet policy and pet rules, those don’t apply to “medical devices.”

I stand in awe of true service dogs - working dogs that lead the blind, steady the seizure victim, calm the confused. These highly trained dogs, mission-driven animals, are truly working dogs. There is no question in my mind that an accommodation for these animals is the right thing to do. I see them every day, on the job, improving the lives of those they assist.

But it’s just like the ablebodied guy who parks in the handicap spot when he runs errands in granny’s car. Even good rules get badly broken. So I guess that securing a certificate and a “service dog” sweater over the internet technically earns passenger elevator rides for some pets - and their owners.

It leads me to a question. Which is worse: breaking a rule, or breaking the spirit of a rule?

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