But Dr. Burch offered a solution: “Some of the country’s biggest insurance companies, such as Allstate, Liberty Mutual and the Hartford, will insure breeds of dogs they wouldn’t otherwise if the dog has Canine Good Citizen training.”
Breed might have been a problem for Hudson, the dog that Sean McNeal and his wife, Melissa, adopted from a city shelter. “He was on the list to be euthanized,” Mr. McNeal said. The couple was hoping to rent an apartment on the Upper West Side that limited dogs to 60 pounds, which happened to be Hudson’s weight, and that also assessed pet behavior.
The McNeals enrolled Hudson in Instinct to teach him some manners. And they went the extra yard. The shelter had told them that Hudson was a German shepherd and pit bull mix, which the McNeals were afraid would quash their chances. “I knew we had to do something,” Mr. McNeal said. On the hunch that the shelter had gotten Hudson’s breed wrong, he had the dog DNA-tested. The result: “Hudson is a mastiff-Akita,” Mr. McNeal said.
When the McNeals had the testing done four years ago, their veterinarian sent a blood sample to a genetic testing lab, which charged the McNeals $150. Online businesses like Wisdom Panel sell kits, starting at less than $100, that involve swabbing a dog’s cheeks for cells and mailing the sample in for testing.
“Co-op boards can deny a pet for any reason, but not the wrong reason,” said Steve D. Sladkus, a founding partner of the law firm Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas who specializes in real estate issues. “One of the wrong reasons is disability discrimination. If I need a pet because of a physical or emotional disability, like depression, and I’m rejected, the board could be faced with a discrimination suit.”
But the disability ruling can be abused. “Some people try to skirt the issue by citing disability depression,” Mr. Sladkus said. “People are increasingly making requests, some bona fide, some not.” Those citing disability need to provide a letter from their doctor, stating that an emotional support pet has been prescribed.
One co-op building, 1150 Fifth Avenue, has a dedicated dog interviewer, Hilary Adams Zwicky, who is affectionately known in the building as “the dog whisperer.” “I was asked to do it because I was the only one on the board who had dogs,” she said. “And I love dogs, all dogs,” including the two Shih Tzus, Poppy and Lucy, she shares with her husband, Henry.
Ms. Zwicky’s interview process is friendly. “I’ll have them over for cocktails,” she said, referring to the owners. The dog is invited, too. “Sometimes I introduce the dog to the girls, my little helpers, to see how they get along.” If the dogs sniff one another, things are going well. “I’ll touch the dog, to see how it reacts to a stranger. I’ll ask if it’s had its proper shots, if it’s been spayed.”
So far, in the five or so years she has been screening pets, she has interviewed about 10 dogs and not rejected one, although she has recommended that some “attend boot camp to calm down energetic behavior. But I’ve never had a problem; they’re all nice dogs.”
“Hilary believes that nice families have nice dogs,” said Lisa Macris, a resident of the building. She and her husband were living in Connecticut when they applied to buy an apartment at 1150 Fifth Avenue, and Keeler, their papillon, stayed home during the board interview.
But Ms. Zwicky grilled Ms. Macris about Keeler. “Hilary talked with me about our dog, a lot,” she recalled. “We talked more about our dog than about our kids.” All went well. “I showed her pictures,” Ms. Macris added. “And I might have mentioned that Keeler came from the same breeder whose papillon had won Best in Show at Westminster.”
A little name-dropping never hurts. Keeler lived with his family at 1150 Fifth Ave from 2009 until his death this spring.