In a tragic turn of events last week, a troubled Upper West Side condo owner who said his building harassed him about his pitbull took his own life just hours after euthanizing his healthy five-year-old dog.
According to two articles this weekend in the New York Post ("Condo board refuses to accept responsibility for actor killing self" and "Soap actor commits suicide after pup's 'forced' euthanasia"), the board at 1 Lincoln Plaza had enacted "a series of oppressive rules" against dogs in 2010 and specifically banned pit bulls.
The pit-bull mix owned by Nick Santino, a 47-year-old struggling actor, was grandfathered in, but Santino and others interviewed by the Post said neighbors and management began a harassment campaign to get the dog out.
The story as reported so far by the Post raises some unanswered questions.
Had the dog, which Santino rescued from a shelter, ever behaved aggressively toward other residents?
Why didn't Santino find another home for the dog or move out if the harassment was untenable? (Granted, finding a NYC apartment building that accepts large dogs -- let alone aggressive breeds -- is a pretty tall order.)
And if neighbors were so intent on having the dog removed, was a compromise suggested, such as requiring the dog to wear a muzzle in the building's public spaces, that might have satisfied both sides?
The tragedy occurs at a time when boards have less ability than ever to ban pets, as courts have become increasingly sympathetic to claims that contraband pets should be accommodated as "emotional support" animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
This isn't the first time that an apartment-dweller's death has been linked to restrictive building rules against pets.
Out in Long Island, an elderly co-op owner claims that his emotionally and physically fragile 74-year-old wife died of heartbreak in 2007 a month after their co-op board forced her to give away her miniature schnauzer. Her husband sued the co-op, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development agreed last month that the board discriminated against her right to have a disability dog, even though dogs were not allowed at the co-op.
But what happens when competing interests collide? It's not clear whether Santino's dog had given the neighbors reason to fear for their safety. But if it had, should their concerns take second place to an emotionally fragile resident's dependence on his pet?
It's a complicated question, and in the hothouse atmosphere of a NYC co-op or condo, an incredibly polarizing one with the potential to prompt hotheaded behavior on all sides.
Given the awful outcome, one thing is almost certainly true: most everyone involved in this sad story at 1 Lincoln Plaza would do things a little bit differently if they had a chance to start over.
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