Owning a pet makes it even more difficult to find housing in Summit County

One local said she felt like she had to give up some freedoms to live with her dog

Domino, an 8-month-old mixed breed and one of the 16 dogs currently housed at the Summit County Animal Shelter, stands inside his kennel on Friday, April 8 in Frisco. The shelter receives animals for reasons like owners struggling to find housing in Summit County, breed discrimination and learned behavioral issues.
Jason Connolly/For the Summit Daily News

Colorado is known for being a pet-friendly state, according to a recent study by Safewise. But some Summit County locals have different views of what it’s like to own a pet within the community, specifically as it relates to finding housing that allows them to stay with their furry family members.

Alex Lithwin moved to Summit County when he was 18 and lived here and in Eagle County for about 15 years. Having just recently moved back to Massachusetts to be with family, Lithwin spent most of his time in the region bouncing from one rental to another, as a lot of renters seem to do.

When he adopted his dog, a 1-year-old pit bull named Hennessy, he had housing that allowed animals. But when the landlord decided turn the unit into a short-term rental, Lithwin soon realized that finding a new home that allowed Hennessy was going to be very different.

Eventually, Lithwin and his girlfriend at the time decided to invest roughly $15,000 so that they could live from a van in order to keep ownership of Hennessy and have a place to rest their heads. But finding a place to park the van also posed issues since there aren’t many places in the county that allow vehicles to overnight camp.

For about 15 years, Alex Lithwin lived in Summit County and bounced around various rental units. The search for housing became much more difficult when he decided to take in Hennessy, an 8-year-old pit bull mix. Eventually, Lithwin said he decided to live in a van when the search for housing that allowed Hennessy became too difficult.
Alex Lithwin/Courtesy photo

Blue River resident Kaleb Anderson has similar experiences. As an eight-year resident of the county, Anderson has jumped from rental to rental. Just this last month, Anderson had to find somewhere else to live because his landlord was planning to sell the three-bedroom home he was renting with a couple other tenants.

With a 5-year-old Australian shepherd blue heeler mix named Kima, finding another place to relocate was near impossible, he said. Anderson lucked out by securing a one-month rental just in the nick of time, but he’s still in search of something permanent.

Both Lithwin and Anderson said they’d never consider rehoming their animals and that they would rather sacrifice small luxuries to make it work with a landlord. Anderson said he would rather couch surf and ask friends to watch Kima if that’s what it took to keep the dog in his care.

To some, it’s unthinkable to get rid of their pet to find housing. At least that’s how Mike Tarrant and Elena Docef feel. The couple is currently searching for a rental to move in together but as they search, they have both had to give up some level of comfortability to make it work with the few landlords that allow pets. Tarrant has a 2-year-old Australian cattle dog named Yuki, and Docef has an 11-year-old golden shepherd mix named Roscoe.

Docef moved to the county from Virginia in June when she was accepted to Colorado Mountain College’s nursing program. Securing housing from the opposite side of the country was no simple task, especially because she planned to bring Roscoe with her.

Though she did eventually find pet-friendly housing, she had to comply with other strict rules set by the landlords. Docef was only allowed to host one guest at her place per month and was restricted from adjusting the thermostat — even when it was set as low as 54 degrees.

“I feel like I had to give up some freedoms to be able to live with my dog,” Docef said.

Like Docef, Tarrant said he felt like he was forced into “uncomfortable” living arrangements because there are so few landlords willing to accept pets. He’s lived in the county for about four years and is currently on a 60-day deadline to find somewhere else for he and Yuki to live.

“I had to kind of suddenly move in with someone who had a lot of red flags pop up when I first met them but they were the only person who allowed pets, and unfortunately I got stuck with a bad human being,” Tarrant said. “It was not a situation I would have gotten myself into had my restrictions not been what they were.”

All four locals said that they would not consider rehoming their animals due to housing, but according to Meg Leroux, operations manager at the Summit County Animal Shelter, housing is one of the reasons people decide to give up their animals.

“It’s pretty common, people moving into the area and not being able to find housing,” Leroux said regarding animal surrenders. “About half of our staff here at the shelter live in surrounding counties, so we can afford to own or rent homes that are pet-friendly. When people are struggling to find housing that allows pets, we always recommend Park County, Grand County, Clear Creek County and Lake County.”

Fortunately, housing is still one of the less popular reasons why people give up their animals. Lesley Hall, director of the shelter, said in an email that last year, there were 98 owner surrenders — when a person relinquishes their pet to the shelter — and 29 returned adoptions, which is when a person who adopted a pet from the shelter returns it.

From both of these combined, only nine animals were taken to the shelter because of housing. The most popular reasons for relinquishing an animal have to do with having too many pets, the owner not being able to care for it or having no time, and allergies.

Leroux noted that most of these individuals who do give up their animals are usually new to the area who are less prepared for the county’s lack of affordable housing. In most cases, she said locals will do what they must to take care of their pets.

“Once people get established, they work really hard to maintain their pet-friendly rental or find another one,” Leroux said.

Summit County Animal Shelter supervisor Daniel Ettinger pets Domino, an 8-month-old mixed breed on Friday, April 8, in Frisco. Ettinger says the shelter occasionally receives animals because owners struggle to find housing in Summit County, a situation he says resulted in him and his dog finding housing in a neighboring county.
Jason Connolly/For the Summit Daily News


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