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When the Dog Decides Where You Live

When the Dog Decides Where You Live


RENTERS

A Brooklyn couple forgo nicer apartments to get outdoor space for their ailing Beagle mix, Bonnie.

Vara Lyons and John Tucker decided they needed to move somewhere with outdoor space when their dog, Bonnie, started having trouble walking. CreditRobert Wright for The New York Times

After several weeks of apartment hunting this spring, John Tucker and Vara Lyons were feeling optimistic about their upcoming move.

In exchange for leaving behind a desirable Park Slope location, it looked like they would be able to get more space for lower rent, while staying within a 15-minute walk of Prospect Park, a favorite haunt of Bonnie, their 10-year-old Beagle mix.

Focusing on South Slope and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Mr. Tucker, 38, and Ms. Lyons, 30, quickly found a number of promising options in the low- to mid-$2,000s.

Several places were charming — one-bedrooms with prewar woodwork on classic brownstone blocks. One apartment, on the southern edge of Prospect Lefferts, was so big that the broker assumed they would be living with roommates. Then, three weeks before their lease expired, Bonnie got sick.

“We thought she was fading,” Mr. Tucker said. “She’d been more lethargic for the last few months, but then she really took a turn for the worse. She was peeing everywhere and unwilling to go downstairs.”

Their veterinarian couldn’t determine what was wrong with Bonnie, but to Ms. Lyons, who recalled a childhood schnauzer displaying similar behaviors in the weeks before his death, Bonnie’s prognosis seemed ominous. And one thing was clear: For a dog who could barely manage to walk up and down the block, trekking to Prospect Park would be out of the question.

“We had a heart-to-heart on the couch,” Mr. Tucker said. “We agreed that the most important factor was not walking to the park. Instead, we needed a place with outdoor access — literally one more year under the sun for Bonnie.”


Around $2000 | BROOKLYN

Vara Lyons, 30, and John Tucker, 38

Assistant district attorney in Brooklyn and public relations consultant
Their new apartment is six blocks away from their old place in Park Slope: “Only in New York do you move five blocks away and have a completely different life — new subway stop, new laundromat,” Mr. Tucker said.
Bonnie shares the yard: Not only with the neighbors and their dogs, but with Paddy, a cat that Ms. Lyons rescued from the street last year, who is allowed outdoors only under a watchful eye.
Staying in a downgraded space for the dog: The couple hopes that Bonnie will someday be able to manage longer walks, so they won’t be compelled to remain in their current apartment just for its backyard access.

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Their one-bedroom apartment has access to the backyard, but they have to go through a window. CreditRobert Wright for The New York Times

Adding a requirement of outdoor space, however, reduced their surfeit of options to three, which soon dwindled to two when the landlord of the nicest apartment by far, a one-bedroom in Prospect Lefferts, decided that she didn’t want a dog in her garden.

“She thought Bonnie was going to eat her plants,” Ms. Lyons said. “Little did she know, Bonnie could care less about eating plants. She likes to eat garbage and cat poop.”

Of their two remaining choices, one was a shoe box in a good location in Park Slope and the other a roomy one-bedroom in South Slope.

“But it left a lot to be desired,” Mr. Tucker said. “It was pretty rough around the edges.”

“It did have molding, which I had really wanted,” Ms. Lyons said. “But it had no dishwasher, and it was a longer subway ride to work.”

Also, the backyard could only be reached through a window — which they had to bend down and squat to get through — to reach a set of wooden steps leading to the ground. More complicated still, it was shared with the first-floor tenants across the hall, who also had two dogs.

Negotiating barbecue times wasn’t a concern, but Ms. Lyons and Mr. Tucker needed to know if the neighbors’ dogs would get along with Bonnie. So Mr. Tucker obtained their number from the broker and made a phone call: “I said, ‘I know this is weird, but …’”

A few days later, the couple and Bonnie met the neighbors and their dogs, a golden retriever and what Ms. Lyons described as an “all-American mutt,” in front of the building. The encounter went well and they decided to advance to the backyard, which required walking through their prospective neighbors’ apartment, squatting through their back window, and clambering down the stack of cinder blocks they used as a makeshift staircase.

“It’s a very surreal feeling when you’re handing your dog to a stranger while he’s standing on a pile of cinder blocks,” Mr. Tucker said. “I think people in other cities care about getting along with your neighbors. Only here do you care about your dog getting along with your neighbors’ dog.”

They moved in this May, though not without some misgivings. While the layout of their new apartment is superior to that of their old place, which had a front door that opened directly onto the bathroom, their new bathroom is tiny and there is no superintendent or laundry in the building. And living on the first floor has meant curbside trash collection right outside their bedroom window, along with an ant infestation that required large quantities of caulk to eliminate.

“It feels like this is the apartment you should have after college,” Ms. Lyons said. “Not when you’re 30.”

“We completely downgraded for Bonnie,” Mr. Tucker said. But, as it happens, Bonnie will have more than a year in the sun. After they moved, a specialist diagnosed her with Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome, or SARDS, a rare, nonfatal condition in which loss of sight is coupled with increased thirst and urination.

Now completely blind, Bonnie may one day be comfortable enough with her condition to make it to the park, but at the moment, her walks are cautious, hesitant affairs, with all parties endeavoring to keep her from bumping into tree guards and signposts.

“The yard has been a godsend for her. She can go out and sniff around,” Mr. Tucker said, adding that while he and Ms. Lyons have found little else to love about their new place, there are a few benefits.

“We’re saving money,” he said. “And my quads are getting stronger from going through the window all the time.”




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