Maggie Stanwood of St. Paul has a billion photos of her dog, Athena. Some with her, some with her fiancé, Jonathan Snyder, but that’s optional, really.
Athena is a German Shepherd. She’s 3. The number of toys she hasn’t obliterated has winnowed down to two balls, which are indestructible enough to double as horcruxes.
The number of people she hasn’t obliterated is exactly all of them. She loves people. She even has her Canine Good Citizen certificate to prove it. If anything, she’s a little skittish around other dogs.
Which is what makes this whole thing weird.
There aren’t that many places in St. Paul where Athena is allowed to live. German Shepherds are a frequently restricted breed in rental properties. You hear about this problem way more often with pit bulls, which have a lousy reputation as an aggressive breed that flower crowns and dog onesies can only do so much to fix.
Stanwood, who only knew Athena as the goofus who kept losing her ball under the couch, didn’t know this until she moved from Columbia, Missouri to Highland Park.
It all unfolded after they arrived in their new place and got a notice from the townhome association. Only one dog allowed per household, it said. Between Stanwood, Snyder and their roommate, they had two. Their landlord hadn’t realized this, and offered to let them off the lease and find a new place as an apology for the mistake.
Giving Athena up wasn’t an option. “Now that I have her, I couldn’t imagine not having her,” Stanwood says.
So the search began for a new place. That’s when it became clear how hard this was going to be. They tried all over St. Paul and Minneapolis. The Twin Cities did not want to rent to German shepherds. Even if a place allowed large dogs, more often than not, there were more specific restrictions on breed. No German Shepherds. Not even if they’re Canine Good Citizens.
According to state statute, cities and counties cannot adopt ordinances regulating “dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs” based solely on breed. Whether or not a dog is considered legally dangerous is dependent on past behavior, and Athena’s past behavior is mostly staring at the crack between the couch and the floor until someone will reach in and get her ball for her.
However, there’s nothing stopping a landlord from making those kinds of discriminations if they’re not a federally funded housing provider and the dog in question isn’t an official support animal. Some use weight or size restrictions. Some will use a list of breeds deemed too “aggressive” for the property. A dog may be a family member, but it is not legally a person, and not legally protected from profiling.
Stanwood and Snyder even searched through MyPitBullIsFamily, a Minneapolis nonprofit that connects dog owners to homes without breed restrictions. The results weren’t exactly comprehensive.
“In a 50-mile radius, only 10 people had even registered with the website,” Snyder says.
They spent the whole day searching place after place online. They would have searched longer, but Stanwood and Snyder got a temporary reprieve. Their roommate let his dog live with his sister, which made Athena compliant with their townhome’s one-dog policy.
But there’s an added wrinkle. Stanwood and Snyder are getting married next year. And when they do, they’re going to want to find a new place to live. That’s the deadline for finding a reasonably affordable place that accepts their dog.
“It’s kind of part of wedding planning at this point,” Stanwood said.
Here and there, they still kill an hour or two looking for places. So far, not so good. Stanwood says they looked at an apartment that had no breed restrictions plus the amenities they wanted, but it was also “like $2,000 for a 400-square-foot apartment.”
She knows how much easier this would be if they had a Golden Retriever instead of a German shepherd. She does think about that sometimes. But that Golden Retriever wouldn’t be Athena.
“If we come across housing that might be more lenient or a single landlord, we’ll show them her training certificates, her Canine Good Citizen [certificate], and the insurance we have taken out in case she injures somebody or damages something,” Stanwood said. “That’s pretty much all we can do for now.”