Public housing tenants vow a dogfight over pet rules

By Rita Wu

A petition against the New York City Housing Authority’s new ban of dogs weighing above 25 pounds and three breeds — pit bulls, Rottweilers and Doberman pinschers — is now online, and public housing residents who love their pooches are rallying around the cause.

“These types of regulations unfairly discriminate against responsible dog guardians who reside in NYCHA and serve only to brand public housing residents and their pets as vicious and out of control,” the petition states.

The petition also asserts that tenants were not properly notified of the new pet policy. Journal, the NYCHA newsletter, did not disclose the new regulations until its April issue, a month before the policy was set to go into effect. A good number of housing developments had not received mail notification. Also, because the information was available only in English, non-English-speaking residents were unaware of the proposed change.

The petition suggests extending the deadline for the policy’s implementation to May 1, 2010, revoking the bans on specific breeds, removing the weight caps, including pet owners in the creation of a new pet policy and stopping any evictions as a result of the new policy.

NYCHA had given the impression that as long as applications were submitted by the May 1 deadline, dogs above the 25-pound limit or from the three banned breeds would be grandfathered in. However, a number of tenants with dogs in these categories reportedly have had their attempts to register their pets rejected. Some of these residents have already received notices from management asking to discuss their tenancy, according to the policy’s critics.

Angel Seda, a community organizer with GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side), a neighborhood housing and preservation organization, created the petition based on tenants’ input from weekly Sunday meetings.

“We’re really hopeful that if we can get the door open to at least start talking about this policy again, to protect the homes of residents who have tried to register and have been denied, we’ll be able to come up with a real solution and, hopefully, a format to take other policies that might be discriminatory in NYCHA, and really think about how do we create real solutions to these problems — because NYCHA is public housing, housing for the public,” Seda stated. “It’s not only the management’s responsibility or the chairperson of NYCHA’s board responsibility to run public housing. The residents have to have some of that responsibility.”

Many residents feel it’s not the size of the dog or the breed that’s the problem but the owner. They want to “come up with some realistic solutions that don’t demonize pet owners or criminalize dogs,” the petition notes. They feel NYCHA should provide handouts on how to be a good pet owner, offer dog-training classes, create dog runs and install surveillance cameras. Reprimands should come in the form of education on the issue.

“Some support in an area where you might not have that much information on how to change the situation or make it different always becomes a great way to heal what the person has done to the neighborhood,” said Seda.

Kanielle, who only gave her first name, a resident of Bracetti Plaza, a NYCHA development at Avenue C and E. Third St., has a pit bull named Denim who is almost 2 years old. Kanielle said the dogs being targeted by the Housing Authority are scapegoats.

“There are dogs out there that are vicious — I’m not saying that they’re not,” she said. “But they come in every breed and every size. They used to blame the Dobermans in the ’70s, Rottweilers in the ’80s, and now it’s pit bulls. It’s not even the dog’s fault how they come out. It’s the owner’s.”

She feels the focus shouldn’t be on dogs, but on more important issues.

“There are people that are there that don’t pay rent, are back in rent,” Kanielle said. “They have court dates. They have drugs going in and out of their house. It’s known that there’s been drug transactions, been arrested for drugs, kids taken away by A.C.S. [Administration for Children’s Services]. It’s all over the place. There’s no cameras. Nobody cares about the real issues, like broken doors, broken elevators, broken hallway lights. It’s dangerous. But they’re complaining about pit bulls or dogs over 25 pounds.”

Amarilis, a resident of the LaGuardia Houses who also only gave her last name, depends on her German shepherd, Jubilee, for more than just companionship.

“I have a lot of illnesses and that causes depression,” she said. “And if it wasn’t for my dog, I wouldn’t be going out there. I wouldn’t be an activist right now. These are things she is making me do. I’m more active. I’m more social. That’s what dogs do. They bring a lot of joy into people’s lives. It’s really unfair if you think about it. That’s the bottom line.”

Seniors, in particular, also are often very attached to their canines.

“Old people, they don’t have any family, they don’t have any protection. They don’t have any companionship,” said a tenant from the First Houses who did not want to be identified.

There have been claims of dogfights and aggressive dog incidents, but so far there has been nothing to back that up, the tenant said.

“Whether it does happen, no one really knows,” the tenant said. “They have to give us some information before they make a statement like that. We haven’t seen what the statistics on dogfights on NYCHA property are, the complaints that have been registered at the manager’s office. Dogfight incidents happening on NYCHA property reported to the police — we haven’t heard of any. It’s all speculation. If NYCHA wants us to have trust in them, they have to give us that information.”

Howard Marder, a Housing Authority spokesperson, in an interview a few weeks ago, said, “The [new pet] policy is a request from residents, resident leaders and the N.Y.P.D.”

However, activist Seda has a problem with that statement.

“There’s just way too much involvement from police in creating the laws and the policies at NYCHA,” Seda said. “There should be no police involvement. There should be more resident involvement. The Police Department having a part of the decision-making doesn’t make sense. Bring in the A.S.P.C.A. Bring in anybody. Bring in Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer.”

For more information about the petition go to www.petitiononline.com/NYCHAPPE/petition.html.