These condos are going to the dogs … and cats — and rabbits

Aleah Brubaker plays with her dog, Bailey, outside their pet-friendly condo in Forest Park. "I couldn't live anywhere where Bailey could not be with me," said Brubaker.

It's 9 a.m. on a sunny spring day and Chicagoan Jim Bott has been out for two walks already. The retired claims adjuster owes this, he says, to the pup behind his pep, a Jack Russell terrier named Amy.

"I bought a ground-floor condo so we could just get up and walk out," says Bott. "By 6 a.m., we're usually outside."

Bott was one of the first buyers of the Belle Plaine Commons condominiums, a pet-friendly campus of "55 and better" residents and their canine and feline companions. He considers himself lucky, he says, because he didn't have to search for a condo complex that would accept Amy when he was ready to downsize from his single-family house.

"I lived right down the street, so when I saw the 'pet-friendly' sign go up, I bought one," says Bott of his digs. Like many pet owners, Bott was not willing to buy a condo where Amy couldn't join him.

At Belle Plaine, Bott is part of a pet-proud community that helps each other. "One lady had knee surgery and couldn't walk her poodle, so the neighbors took turns," he recalls.

"Let me put it this way: You couldn't give a condo to a pet person if it didn't allow pets," says Judy Westerberg, sales manager at Belle Plaine Commons. "For pet people, their animals are like their children, and they are not moving without them."

Among the Belle Plaine buyers, says Westerberg, "Fifty percent have pets and many of the other 50 percent bought here because they want to get pets."

"I couldn't live anywhere where Bailey could not be with me," says Aleah Brubaker of her German shepherd/chow chow mix. A medical student, Brubaker recently bought a condo at The Residences at the Grove in Forest Park. "Bailey was my No. 1 consideration."

Brubaker's one-bedroom condo has a balcony, which was another deal-clincher. "Bailey and I like to hang out there on nice days and get fresh air," she says.

In addition to having a dog park nearby, Brubaker appreciates the green space her development has for late-night potty stops. Proximity to her dog walker, who takes out Bailey when she has 12-hour shifts, was a key buying decision, too.

In addition to having pet-friendly premises, pet people say they like living with others who share their fervor for fur.

"We are 'pet people' here, and it spreads," says real estate analyst Scott Curto of his condo development, Huron Street Lofts. "Every spring, we have several new puppies in the building."

The resident pets include dogs ranging from Curto's Jack Russell terrier, Corbie, to a Swiss mountain dog, plus a coterie of cats and a litterbox-trained rabbit.

As president of his condo association, Curto says pets are a top concern among his neighbors. They contribute to a fund that keeps their front-door, doggie-bag dispenser filled. Their condo board is reviewing plans to add a heated green space to their rooftop deck so dogs can do their business without having to walk during Chicago's cold snaps.

Owners at Curto's building self-police pet problems, he says, giving owners of barking dogs warning letters that include suggestions for keeping their canines quiet. Most are not only courteous, though, he adds, but go out of their way to help fellow pet people.

Every day's a dog day at Chicago condo development Lakeshore East, which has a dog park for playtime plus "dog-welcome areas" for quick potty stops. "The park has a fountain, which the dogs use as a splash pool," says Tricia Van Horn, vice president of sales at Magellan Development Group. A veterinarian who does house calls and a mobile pet groomer are on call. The office keeps a list of recommended dog walkers, including several who live in the development.

Sixty-two percent of American households have at least one pet, according to the American Pet Products Association, so condo builders who overlook this crowd ignore a big chunk of buyers.

Organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) publish advice for builders who want to attract responsible pet owners and for pet owners who want to play nice.

"First, we recommend the buyer do her homework," says Nancy Peterson, pet programs manager for the HSUS. "Just because you see people with dogs outside a building doesn't mean that building allows dogs. If the building does allow pets, get it in writing and make sure your pet will be grandfathered in if the condo board votes later on to not allow pets. For more information, we recommend Mary Randolph's book, 'Dog Law.'"

Pet-friendly features generate sales among pet people, say the builders. At The Heritage of Palatine condos in Palatine, scraped-wooden floors are the cat's pajamas. "They are already distressed so toenail scratches just give them more character," says sales manager Katie Campbell. "Dog people like pull-out sprayers for their laundry tubs for washing dogs. Cat people like deep windowsills because the cats are happy sleeping there in the sun."

The HSUS suggests additional ways for builders to make buildings pet-friendly, beyond the obvious potty places for dogs. "Dog people will love you if you put an elevated tub for baths in the garage or laundry room," says Peterson. "Vertical blinds are better than horizontal, which cats climb. Window seats keep dogs and cats happy while they wait for their people to come home. Outside, don't plant plants that are toxic to pets."

The greatest bone of contention at pet condo buildings, says Peterson, is size limits. "It's naïve to think a smaller dog is less likely to bark or misbehave," she tells builders. "In fact, Great Danes and greyhounds are big couch potatoes."

The most successful pet condo buildings have pet committees that enforce their rules and oversee pet-designated areas, says Peterson. "Pet owners tend to help neighbors deal humanely with behavioral problems," she says.

Pet people in search of condos can turn to Chicago Realtor Roger Lautt, who specializes in pet-friendly housing. Go to, then to "Dog Friendly Buildings." Enter your name, phone and condo criteria and Lautt will conduct a search for you among the pet-friendly condo buildings in the Chicago area.

"More condos allow pets than people realize, but many have size restrictions of 25 or 40 pounds for dogs," reports Lautt. A sample search of five neighborhoods on Chicago's North Side, he says, yielded 6,000 pet-friendly condos.

Don't even talk granite countertops or brushed-nickel faucets until you've established a condo's pet persona, says Lautt of his clients. "As far as amenities go, allowing pets is huge," he says. "When pets are in, the value of the condos go up."