Turmoil Over Pet Policy : Housing Authority Proposal Would Limit Animals in L.B. Housing Project

Times Staff Writer

In the dozen years since Joann Garrett moved into Carmelitos--the city's only low-income housing project--she has been breeding mixed terrier-poodles to keep her company.

The first was Tina, who begat Kippy, who begat Cindy. Then, almost three years ago, Cindy gave birth and the fourth generation was named Tina, too.

But the dog dynasty may end soon, and Cindy and Tina the younger--the only survivors--may have to find a new home.

It would be a big change for Garrett, 51, whose arthritis keeps her in the apartment most of the time. When she sleeps, the two dogs sleep too, on a blanket spread on her bedroom floor. When she's sitting down, the dogs stay at her feet. And when she gets up, they follow her around.

"I'd miss them a lot," she said. But, Garrett added, she just wouldn't be able to afford the payments required by a new pet policy the Los Angeles County Housing Authority has proposed.

The policy generally prohibits new pets in Carmelitos and limits the number and size of current pets that could remain. Liability insurance to cover the animals would be required, and damage deposits up to $100 would be charged for each pet that stays.

'My Pocket's Empty'

"They're telling us we have to take this out of our pockets, and my pocket's empty," Garrett said. "I wouldn't be here if it weren't." She receives a monthly disability check for $504; her 21-year-old son brings in another $120 a month from the county for serving as his mother's housekeeper.

Like many of the approximately 800 tenants in Carmelitos, Garrett is furious about the housing authority's recommendations. The residents have been passing petitions and writing letters to the housing authority. They have collected testimonials from the mail carrier and other delivery people who have never been bothered by the animals there.

They hope to defeat the suggested changes, as they have done in the past. The policy, which applies only to Carmelitos, is scheduled for review by the housing commission Feb. 21; the county Board of Supervisors is expected to make a final decision in mid-March.

"My phone hasn't stopped ringing," said Dorothy McAleavey, co-chair of the Tenant Action Committee, the residents' community organization. "The county calls this a pet policy. We call it a no-pet policy."

Mel Rice, the authority's housing management director, agreed that the proposal was designed to eventually eliminate pets at Carmelitos--or at least sharply reduce their number. Rice said he is determined to do so because a long-awaited renovation of the project is nearing completion and he wants to minimize damage to the modernized apartments.

300 More Families

As a result of the renovation, within the next year about 300 more families will move into formerly unusable units at Carmelitos, doubling the human population there, Rice said.

"We didn't want the new families bringing pets in," he said. "And we didn't want the existing pet situation to go on once we have all the new units in place."

He describes the situation this way: "You can drive through Carmelitos most any morning, see the dogs running loose through there. We've had 12 dog bites officially reported at Carmelitos in the past year. . . . I know of a new unit in Carmelitos where the dogs are allowed to defecate in the unit. I imagine

we'll have to do some pretty extensive cleaning when that tenant moves out."

Carmelitos residents concede that some dogs in the project cause problems. Garrett, for example, had a pit bull that bit a project maintenance man about a year ago. She says the man had lightly hit the dog on the nose.

When the project manager told her to get rid of the pit bull, Garrett gave the dog to a friend.

But Cindy and Tina "are just pets," she said. "They're just my babies. I just don't feel I should have to get rid of them just because I don't have any money."

Maximum of Two Pets

Under the proposed policy, which would be incorporated into the standard lease, tenants could not keep more than two pets in each apartment. Each pet would have to weigh less than 30 pounds.

For each dog, a tenant would pay a $100 damage deposit; for each cat, $50, and for each fish aquarium, $50. A $25,000 liability insurance policy also would be required.

Residents would be forbidden to replace their pets once the animals left, and new tenants could not bring pets. An exception would be made for the disabled or those over 60 years old, because federal and state laws give the handicapped and elderly the right to keep pets. ("That would be the only thing that would make me admit that I'm 60," said Mabel Davis, who wants to be able to get a new dog if something happens to her poodle, Tawny Nanette Davis.)

Rice isn't happy about those exceptions either. "It's unfair," he said. "A lot of my problems are elderly people who have a dog that stays in the apartment and yips and barks."

Of the federal law, introduced by Sen. William Proxmire (the Wisconsin senator who awards the Golden Fleece awards for waste of taxpayer dollars), Rice said: "Around here, we call it the Golden Flea."

But he expects that many of those eligible to replace pets will not, because they would still have to pay the fees.

The policy would put Carmelitos residents in the same situation as tenants in other county housing projects, Rice said. The only other project that allows pets at all is Harbor Hills in Lomita, but pets there have been regulated under similar rules since 1979--seven years after Harbor Hills was renovated, Rice said.

'The Real World'

"This is just the real world," Rice said. "You're not likely to find many private apartments that allow pets."

Carlos Golinda, executive director of the Apartment Assn., Southern California Cities, said about half of the privately owned apartments in the area allow some pets. He said most limit the number and size allowed and that most also charge damage deposits. "Even a parrot can be a real mess, depending on the hygiene and habits of the owner," he said.

This is not the first time the housing authority has tried to regulate pets at Carmelitos. In 1977, pet rules were proposed. But then-county Supervisor James Hayes of the Fourth District, which includes Carmelitos, was able to defeat the proposal, Rice said.

Supervisor Deane Dana has not taken a position on the pet rules, a spokesman said.

In 1980, Rice said, "the situation was out of hand. We had dog control coming in there every morning picking up dogs. We told the tenants something had to be done."

Agreement Negotiated

The tenant association negotiated an agreement with the housing authority: The residents would be limited to one pet each, but replacements would be allowed. No fees would be charged and the tenants would police themselves, establishing a committee to hear complaints.

That policy was never implemented, Rice said, "because we were going through the issue of modernization at that point, and we didn't know exactly when it was going to happen. . . . We didn't want to encourage them to go out and purchase the pets."

As a result, however, the tenants were shocked when copies of the latest pet proposal were placed in apartment doors last month.

Glenn Crout, also a tenant association co-chair, said that when the renovation was planned, "they asked tenants what they wanted, and we asked for fenced yards for our dogs."

"They gave us the yards--why are they taking away the pets?" he asked.

Personal Protection

For Peggy Pollock, the mere thought that the policy may be approved is enough to bring tears to the corners of her eyes. She depends on Piper, her Dutch barge dog, for protection, she said.

Pollock's daughter and son-in-law gave her Piper three years ago--shortly after two men broke into the apartment where she lives alone. They raped her, she said.

"I'm still in shock," Pollock said. "Without Piper, I don't think I could handle it. I don't think those men would have gotten up the stairs if I'd had Piper then."

At 63, Pollock qualifies for the senior-citizen exemption that would allow her to replace Piper if the dog dies. And Piper is exactly 30 pounds--the weight limit. But she doesn't know how she would pay the damage deposit or the insurance. She is living on disability pay of $504 a month.

She was able to save $100 before--for a 40-gallon aquarium--but it took almost a year, she said. She cut down on her smoking and gave up going to Sunday-dinner club meetings.

But there aren't many more ways to economize, she said. Besides, she also has another dog, a mixed-breed named Buffy, as well as a parakeet and a ring-necked dove. "I wouldn't know how to choose between them all," she said. "The whole thing's ridiculous."

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