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After two Canary Island Mastiffs attacked and killed 33-year-old Diane Whipple in the hallway to her San Francisco apartment home earlier this year, dog attack complaints increased with a renewed hue and cry about large pets housed in high-density communities.

Pet lovers were quick to point out the rarity of such attacks and noted the documented benefits of animal companions in the home -- the simple stroking of a dog or cat, can lower your heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. Even watching fish in an aquarium can be soothing and meditative, if sometimes boring.

Striking a balance between pet panic and the passion pets evoke is a particularly tough task for community associations where close-in living can make pets and the rules that govern them a pain or a panacea.

"Pet Policies: How to Draft and Enforce Rules That Sit, Stay, and Heel" (Community Association Press, $25, $15 for non-members) is a new Community Associations Institute publication to help keep homeowner association members from going after each other like, well, cats and dogs.

"If we are really trying to put community back into the communities I think we need to have choice, flexibility, and options. This book has been written with this in mind," said Jean Georges, of Las Vegas-based Business Reorganization, Inc. and a director of CAI's Nevada chapter.

The guide book offers practical alternatives to heavy restrictions and innovative enforcement ideas to help man and beast get along in close quarters.

It's not just about keeping dogs and cats in their place. The increase in non-traditional pets including ferrets, pythons, monkeys, wolf hybrids and pot bellied pigs (Oh my!) pose unique challenges for community associations.

"Admittedly, most community association pet problems tend to be in the more common dog-and-cat category But regardless of the species in question -- dog, cat, bird, pig, snake, ferret, wallaby -- enacting workable and reasonable pet rules, encouraging compliance, an enforcing those rules are the challenges," writes author Debra H. Lewin, the institute's spokeswoman.

Lewin says the best pet rules can stand the test of a court suit.

She says "There are four things a court will consider if your association is sued, so before that happens, ask yourself:"

  • Does the rule serve a purpose? The rule has to be legitimate rather than just a reason to ban dogs because, say, the board president doesn't like dogs. The rule should include language such as "...providing for the health, comfort, safety and general welfare of the residents..." to document the rule's legitimacy.
  • Is the rule reasonable? Reasonable rules make compliance more likely. Typically, reasonable rules are logical, they address a specific problem, they are rational, fair and not too broad or restrictive. For example, if your rule allows pets but says you can't walk them on the common ground, that effectively forces you to carry your pet from your front door to some location outside the common area. Such a rule likely would fail.
  • Is the rule consistent with existing bylaws and local and state statutes? Rules that contradict existing law are invalid.
  • Is the rule consistent with public policy? The most common public policies affecting pet rules are those expressed in the federal Fair Housing Act. Associations must accommodate people with disabilities who need a guide dog. Many courts are finding "no pet" rules unreasonable is because of the increased need for such service animals.

"Of particular interest in this guide is the information on the federal Fair Housing Act and the impact it is having on community association's pet policies," writes Lewin.

"A section on the increasing trend in exotic and dangerous pets also offers sound advice on how to handle a new species of pet issues," she adds.

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