If you know anything at all about cohousing communities, members spend countless hours sitting around, talking and eventually make decisions by consensus about lots of routine stuff like who’s in charge of changing lightbulbs when they go out in the common house, or who’s bringing what to the pot luck dinner, or who’s calling the trash hauler because the recycling bin is overflowing.
But then there are the few decisions that take up the most time and energy because the discussions often get entangled trying to balance the “rights of self-interested individuals” and the “good of the whole.”
There’s been a lengthy thread on the Cohousing Association of the U.S. email listserv about one of those hot topics – dogs in the common house. Some dog owners take very personally any actions banning dogs from community spaces.
One of my cohousing friends and colleagues, Ann Zabaldo, lives in Takoma Village in Washington D.C. She wrote what I consider to be the best response I’ve heard about how to balance the dialectic between “dog owners” and “dog not owners” and writes:
“There are two kinds of people in the world: dog owners and dog not owners. I am a dog lover.
“When I first moved into Takoma Village some 19 years ago I lived w/ a dog. And I felt the same as you – torn between being with my dog or being with neighbors in the common house.
“I don’t expect “dog not owners” to understand this. Like you, Noah and I were inseparable. He was always at my heels. We were best buds. Sadly, within two months of moving in Noah died. Nineteen years later there’s still a hole in my heart.
“The professional advice upon the loss of a dog – New dog. Same breed. As soon as possible – has not yet manifested itself. Still too soon.
“Adapting to cohousing rules about pets is not an easy adaptation for dog owners to make. You are used to going places w/ your four-footer. They are “family members.” Now, after these years developing your community, you are confronted by the promise of having these relationships w/ two-footers but your four-footer is restricted.
“This is hard.
“Many people on this list have addressed the challenges and concerns of mixing pets w/ community life especially as it pertains to the common areas. I won’t repeat the concerns (If you’re on the listserv, read the email history here).
“I suggest: make the most of outdoor spaces. During warm weather consider organizing dinners or other meals outside. People love to BBQ or just bring dinner on a tray and sit w/ others outside. If you have the outdoor space, consider creating a dog run. It will be a lovely social space.
“If you participate in agility create an agility course. Put on a demonstration for your community. Have a dog show! Do fun things w/ your dog and invite neighbors to go w/ you even if just for a walk. Walking w/ a dog is never boring. Even in cool or cold weather gin up some activities w/ your dog(s) and the community.
“NOTE: Dog/pet owners can gain a good deal of Karma by scrupulously cleaning up after pets. You will still have the problems of folks who are afraid of dogs, who don’t like dogs, who are intolerant etc. You can do a lot to reduce hesitation about dogs in the community by sharing your dog.
“There may be kids or adults in the community who cannot own a dog for some reason but who would like the company of dogs. So consider including neighbors in the life of you and your dog.
“After Noah died, my neighbor brought her dog, Lucy, to stay w/ me during the day. That started my Doggie Day Care service. I had Lucy’s company all day. Lucy didn’t have to spend her days in a house by herself. The owner could relax and not rush home to walk the dog by 6 p.m. because I gave Lucy a comfort break every afternoon.
“If the neighbor wanted to stay at work later … I would feed Lucy. Perfect cohousing relationship.
“You may be able to work something out w/ your community about limited access in the CH proper. However, that may be a steep climb.
“So again … look for opportunities to integrate pooches w/ the community. Enjoy living in cohousing w/ your companion. BTW —For my next coho community I’m envisioning creating a community of dog lovers and Mindfulness Meditation practitioners.
Excellent combination. Bark! Bark! Ruff! Ruff! OM … mmmmmmmmmm”