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Posted at 05:00 AM ET, 02/28/2012

Apartment Hunt: Me and my 100-pound dog


While apartment hunting, Coleen O'Lear quickly learned that the city's landlords have categories of dog breeds that are more acceptable than others. (Coleen O'Lear)

All I wanted since I was in college was a great job in journalism and a bullmastiff. First came the puppy -- which grew into a 95-pound lap dog -- then my shot at the dream job. But with that big-city career came big-city problems: Small apartments and lots of restrictions.

Leaving the sunny South Carolina Lowcountry, I had high hopes for life in Washington. I’d lived in an apartment before -- 900-square-feet, two bedrooms, $850 a month -- and by all accounts, bullmastiffs are great apartment dogs despite their size.

They might look intimidating, but bullmastiffs are gentle giants. They don’t bark much and need very little exercise, preferring to lay around and cuddle. Given that female bullmastiffs can easily weigh more than 100 pounds, my dog Stella is small by breed standards. My vet even lovingly refers to her as the “Kate Moss of bullmastiffs.”

Despite her slender-for-her-breed frame, my boyfriend and I knew her size would be an issue when it came time to hunt for an apartment in D.C. Apartments in the District and close-in areas already have a low vacancy rate and many don’t allow pets, which put us at a disadvantage from the start. But for those buildings that did allow dogs, I quickly found out that there are some categories of canines non grata.


Coleen O'Lear and her dog, Stella, a bullmastiff, have had a hard time finding a place to live. (Coleen O'Lear)

Like most young adults, we started our search on Craigslist looking for a one- or two-bedroom apartment in the District or as close to it as we could afford. For us, a washer and dryer was a must, parking was preferable and studios just wouldn’t work. To widen our search, we also looked at rent.com and apartmentfinder.com, The Washington Post’s Rentals site and everything in between.

I filtered my searches online, limited them to dog-friendly apartments and came across abundant listings for large-scale apartment buildings operated by equally large property management companies.

While a large apartment building is likely to have all of the features we want, they’re often more expensive and present another problem: one-size fits all rules.

After a day of seeing places from Alexandria to Rockville, we had one more appointment at a building in the Mount Vernon area. I had called ahead regarding Stella’s size (a must for dog owners) and there was no weight limit. (Music to my ears.) The apartment was great and had many of the features we wanted -- a washer and dryer, reserved parking, ample closet space and a grocery store nearby. It was also just blocks away from a friend. This was the one, I could feel it.

Then we found out bullmastiffs were on the “restricted breed” list.

In other words, Stella was not welcome.

My hopes were dashed and my feelings hurt. The thought had never crossed my mind that bullmastiffs would be classified as a restricted breed. I assumed traditionally aggressive breeds wouldn’t make the cut, but many large or working-group dogs were blacklisted -- St. Bernards, huskies, Great Pyrenees and Irish wolfhounds, to name a few.

When we told the leasing agent we wouldn’t be moving forward, I thought she’d show us the door like so many others had. Instead, she asked: “Well, isn’t there someone who could take it? This is a great space for you guys.”

It? Obviously, this woman was no dog person. As many dog owners can probably relate, this question was like asking me to give up my first-born child for granite countertops and a Metro nearby. Stella is part of the family and she was not going anywhere.

Coleen O’Lear is a web producer at The Washington Post.

Related: Our previous series of The Apartment Hunt

Next installment: When it comes to pets, size matters in D.C. How to get around the big issue.

By Coleen O’Lear  |  05:00 AM ET, 02/28/2012

 
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