Fall Real Estate 2009

Publication Date: Friday, October 9, 2009

Where man's best friend is still welcome
Retirement communities involve seniors -- and their pets

Priscilla Hexter knows settling into a retirement home is one small step for the mover, and one giant leap for the mover's four-legged friend. When she and her Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier, Tavistock, relocated from their single-family home to The Hamilton last fall, the adjustment was more strenuous than expected.

"It took us awhile to adapt," Hexter said. "Tavi was used to having a lot of green lawn to run around on without a leash. At The Hamilton, there was definitely less space."

Despite initial challenges with space, Tavi and his owner worked out the kinks, settling swiftly into life at The Hamilton. "I live on the ground floor and have a patio so Tavi can go out to get fresh air," Hexter said. "I also take him to dog parks at Greer and Mitchell where he can run around."

The Hamilton, with its 36 condominiums, is small in scope and provides the perfect venue for socializing with animals and owners. "You very rapidly find out who the other pet owners are," Hexter said.

Tavi instantly befriended Monti, a long-haired miniature doxen belonging to resident Joyce Vincenti. "The two get walked at the same time each day," Hexter said. "They have become very good friends. I think they would like to interact even more."

Before putting her house on the market, Hexter inquired about pet regulations at several local retirement homes. "My children were brought up here in Palo Alto with dogs," she said. "They have always been a normal part of my life, so I was looking for a place with condominiums that allows dogs."

Compared to most retirement homes in Palo Alto, The Hamilton's pet regulations are lax, Hexter said. "Since we own our own units, many rules are up to the owners," she said. "We can have up to two pets of the four-foot variety and they have to be on a leash when they're in the public." Unlike Webster House and the Classic Residence by Hyatt, there are no size limitations for pets.

Pets are not only a joy to care for but are also beneficial to a senior adult's health, according to Hexter. "I read that it's good for seniors to own pets," she said. "It's good for our mental health because they're such good companions and friends. It's also good for our physical health because you have to walk them."

At the Hyatt, rules regarding pets are more stringent. Resident Jackie Schneider, a dog owner, is familiar with the requirement that pets more than 25 pounds must be formally interviewed.

Schneider, adamant that her sizable German shepherd, Cesar, live at the Hyatt with her, attended an interview. "I went into a tiny office and between the two of us, Cesar and the great, big desk, there wasn't much room," Schneider said. "Cesar behaved and just lay there. They watched us walk to our car to see how he was on the leash."

"It's important that the dogs are OK with people," Schneider said. When Cesar passed away, Schneider got Toni, a miniature poodle. "My poodle gets along with everybody. There's a dog trail along the creek and all the dogs get along out there."

Although relations between the dogs remain friendly outdoors, tensions simmer within the Hyatt's walls. "Whether the dogs all feel that this is their territory, they don't get along inside the building," Schneider said. "There are also several residents from Shanghai that are afraid of dogs. This is why dogs aren't permitted in public rooms."

Despite some uneasiness amongst the Hyatt's residents regarding pets, Schneider generally finds the community supportive of her fury friend. "When my cataract surgery didn't go well and I had blurry vision for months, several people on my hallway offered to walk Toni," she said. "People pay attention to my dog. Everyone wants to pet her."

Transitioning into life at the Hyatt was a trouble-free affair, according to Schneider. "My dogs are the easygoing types," she said. "There were no problems at all."

The move was made easier because Schneider requested a room on the first floor, she said. "I wanted a place where my dogs could go out and enjoy the patio," she said. "I also didn't want to take them in the elevator, in case the residents from Shanghai walked in and got nervous."

Cat owner Joan Shevell does not have to worry about her pet interacting with other residents and animals at Webster House. "Archie stays in my apartment," Shevell said. "I'm also the only one who owns a pet at Webster. Many people here are older than I am and taking care of a pet is too much responsibility for them."

Shevell picked out Archie upon her move from New York City to Webster House last February. "When I lost my husband 10 months ago, my daughter and her husband flew me out to Palo Alto so we could live near each other," she said.

"My daughter went with me to the shelter and we both saw this enormous, fuzzy orange cat," Shevell said. "Getting Archie was the best thing that ever happened to me next to marrying my husband."
Archie gives his owner company and comfort. "He always knows when I'm not feeling well," Shevell said. "He'll crawl onto the bed and put a paw on either side of my neck. I'll feel his snowflake-like fur on my skin."

The cat's owner is not the only occupant at Webster House that adores him. "There's only 30 of us at Webster," she said. "It's a small group of us and they'll come over when I'm sick and will pet him and sit with him. They're very caring people. It's really like a family here."

Shevell's family also enjoys spending leisurely afternoons at her apartment, doting on Archie. "My family loves him," she said." Especially my son-in-law; he puts Archie on his lap and he'll just stay there for hours."