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The Hunt: When Pet Friendliness Has Its Limits

September 3, 2006The HuntWhen Pet Friendliness Has Its Limits By JOYCE COHENSOMETIMES you need more than a pet-friendly building. You need a pet-passionate building. That’s what Matt Pestronk and Carrie Gross were after. Chief, their English mastiff, weighs 158 pounds.“Big dog” were the first words out of their mouths to brokers. Despite their willingness to pay around $6,000 a month for a two-bedroom rental, the dog created a problem. Pet friendliness, they found, hit its limit at the size of this beast.As a child, Mr. Pestronk saw the big breed on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” “I don’t know what the segment was about,” he said. “I just knew I needed one.”Until last month, Mr. Pestronk, 29, who is originally from Washington, had lived with Chief in Philadelphia. He owned a two-bedroom town house near Rittenhouse Square. A year ago, he began a wretched train commute several days a week to New York, for his job in commercial real estate financing. He was starting to hunt for a one-bedroom, but wasn’t ready to make a move.That changed last spring after Ms. Gross, 32, originally from Gladwyne, Pa., contacted him on JDate.com, a Jewish dating Web site. She lived in a 900-square-foot co-op loft on East 46th Street, which she had bought in 1999 for $240,000. She left her job, as an event planner for Playboy magazine, because the nonstop partying and traveling “was not a lifestyle I wanted to continue living in my 30’s,” she said. She now writes a column, “Sex and the Upper East Side” (sexandtheuppereastside.blogspot.com), for a neighborhood Web site called UpperEast.com.(Yes, it’s pure coincidence she shares a first name with Carrie Bradshaw, heroine of “Sex and the City.” “I had the name long before that show,” she said.)The upswing in her romantic fortune altered the conceit of her column, so she now focuses more on having a relationship than hunting for one, and on other people’s problems, which she calls “o.p.p.”Within weeks, the two were making plans to live together. One option, much discussed, was that Mr. Pestronk move in to her place. But the dog’s presence made that tough. On Chief’s first night there, he climbed the stairs to the platform loft bed, but couldn’t squeeze in. So he backed down.“I heard this running-water sound,” Ms. Gross said. “He was peeing on the floor.”They considered renovating to make separate rooms — a pricey option that would displace them for months. “Our plan is to get engaged and married, and this is something we would be able to live in only temporarily,” Ms. Gross said. “It would either be sell now, or sell in a few years after we invested a few hundred thousand dollars.”Most important, they wanted to start off together in a place of their own. “What we want to purchase in a couple of years is not what we want to purchase now,” she said. “The suburbs will be an option, or buying something much bigger.”So they put their homes on the market — the Philadelphia town house for $465,000 and the East Side co-op for $685,000 — and began hunting for a two-bedroom, two-bath rental. He wanted a terrace; she required a doorman. And Chief had to be welcome. “I see dogs all over New York,” Mr. Pestronk said. “I didn’t think it was going to be a problem.”It was. In some cases, mentioning the dog was like “telling them we were coming in with a bomb — no one was going to take us,” Ms. Gross said. On other occasions, “brokers ‘yes yessed’ us to death,” she said. “But then the management person would say no to the dog,” which was especially exasperating. “That’s the broker’s job — to weed out what we can’t rent,” she said.It didn’t help to explain that Chief, despite his scary size, was quiet and friendly — “a slobbering lovefest,” Ms. Gross said.The two were encouraged when they visited a two-bedroom at 300 East 57th Street, renting in the mid-$4,000’s. With a small area of outdoor space, it was “livable but not spectacular, and we hadn’t given up on spectacular,” she said.Several luxury rentals in Battery Park City, for $5,600 to $5,800 a month, would take the dog. But the neighborhood felt remote.So they tried elsewhere downtown. They liked a two-bedroom penthouse duplex at 10 Hanover Square, the former Goldman Sachs headquarters, renting for $6,100. There would be savings from a free membership in the building’s fitness complex and even a year of free maid service, given to penthouse residents. But, on a Saturday afternoon, this neighborhood was barren.They headed back uptown. They almost rented an apartment at 40 Central Park South for $6,300 a month. But this touristy area had almost too much action — it was “the epicenter of loud,” Mr. Pestronk said. Besides, he wasn’t keen on the apartment’s ornate turquoise interior, which he pronounced “schmaltzy.”At the same time, Ms. Gross called Beverly Adlam, an agent at Citi Habitats. She suggested several pet-friendly apartments, including an 1,150-square-foot two-bedroom with a large terrace, in a building near the Queensboro Bridge. The rent was $5,100.“This was exactly the apartment Matt described that we would never find,” Ms. Gross said. “We would walk the streets where people had planters and terraces, and he would point and say, ‘We want one of those.’ ”The building, with almost 130 units, has about 40 dogs, said the leasing agent, Adam Rothman of Prudential Douglas Elliman. There’s even another English mastiff, though he’s smaller than Chief.The two signed a two-year lease, which has a pet rider. The dog isn’t allowed on the terrace unattended, for example. They bought a sofa made of leather — drool and fur are easy to clean off.In his new home, as everywhere, Chief enjoys a measure of celebrity. Heads turn as he lumbers down the street. The doormen greet him with biscuits. At least one neighbor hasn’t been so genial, refusing to share the elevator with him lest he sniff the grocery bags.“If you love a person, you make concessions,” Ms. Gross said. “The dog has already peed in this apartment three times.”



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