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Pet Peeve

George the dachshund stands just inches tall and weighs 11 pounds. Given up for adoption by a family that rejected him, the 2-year-old dog has found a home in a two-bedroom apartment in east Phoenix. A quiet little pup with big, woeful eyes, he has his own cushion on the...
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George the dachshund stands just inches tall and weighs 11 pounds. Given up for adoption by a family that rejected him, the 2-year-old dog has found a home in a two-bedroom apartment in east Phoenix. A quiet little pup with big, woeful eyes, he has his own cushion on the floor to snuggle on, dishes full of food and water and nearby desert trails to romp along.

His owner, Don Meyer, is "five-foot nothing" and 79 years old. A veteran of World War II's Battle of the Bulge whose radio career and family life were ruined by alcohol, he says he has been sober for nearly 24 years.

Meyer adopted George at his doctor's advice after he had to put down his best friend, an 18-year-old dog named Heidi, in December. Meyer, whose hearing is shot in one ear from a war injury, needed another dog, his doctor says, to help him hear and to fight depression.

And so when George and Meyer found each other early last month at the pound, it was a mutual rescue.

But now, managers of Meyer's apartment say George has to go. They've told Meyer to get rid of the dog or find somewhere else to live, even though he and Heidi had shared the place for 16 years.

Meyer, who lives alone and has no family in Arizona, says he can't afford to relocate and would have a hard time physically with a move. And giving up George so he can stay is not an option.

"I've always had an animal and I won't live without one," he says. "I will not give up my pet if I have to live in a tent."

Meyer has lived at the Boulder Creek apartment complex longer than any other resident. When he and Heidi, a dachshund/Chihuahua mix he got from someone at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, moved in, he paid a $150 pet deposit required for him to keep her.

But five years ago, a new management company took over the complex and instituted a "no pets" rule.

John Slavik, owner of Pinnacle Holdings Inc., the Newport Beach, California, company that runs the complex, says anyone who had a pet at the time was allowed to keep the animal. But he says residents knew they could not get any new pets.

So when Heidi -- the only remaining dog at the complex -- had to be put to sleep in December, Slavik says, Meyer should have known he was not allowed to get another dog. But Meyer says when he signed another one-year lease on October 1, it carried over the $150 pet deposit notation. He assumed it would cover a replacement pet. Meyer says the complex manager didn't mention his dog or anything about pets when he signed the new lease.

One evening soon after George moved in, Meyer went for his usual walk in the desert behind the apartment complex. As they returned, Meyer says, he saw apartment manager Steve Wieser in the parking lot.

"I said, 'Hi, Steve, I'd like you to meet Heidi II,'" Meyer says. He says Wieser told him then that he needed to get rid of the new dog or get out in eight days.

Wieser won't comment on the situation. He referred all questions to the corporate office in Newport Beach.

Slavik says the company plans to serve Meyer notice that he is in violation of the "no pets" part of the lease.

Arizona law requires landlords to give tenants a written, 10-day notice. During that time, the law says, the tenant can remedy the problem or the lease can be terminated.

But attorney Jim Wees, who works with the Arizona Renters Association on landlord-tenant disputes, says unless a specific dog is named in the lease, the pet deposit should cover any new pet until that lease expires. "You can't use it to let someone keep Lassie, then say Fido has to go," he says.

The management company does have a right to change the lease when it expires, Wees adds.

Slavik says he does not particularly want to evict Meyer. He says he has asked Wieser to help him find a new place to live that does accept pets. The company might give Meyer a notice saying he has just days to get out, but Slavik says he doesn't intend to enforce the notice. Slavik says the company will allow him a month or two to relocate. If that's a problem, Slavik says, he's willing to wait until the end of Meyer's lease -- September 30 -- before forcing him to move.

"We're not evicting the tenant. We're telling him we're not going to renew his lease," says Slavik. "And if we can help him find an apartment in which the dog is acceptable, we will. We're not strong-arming the tenant. He's a long-term tenant and we'd like to be able to keep him, but we have a 'no dog' policy."

Meyer thinks that, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, his doctor's note suggesting he keep a dog might allow him to stay at Boulder Creek. The note, written on a prescription form but not dated, says Meyer "has been advised to keep a pet dog. He suffers from depression and hearing loss and the pet gives him added security."

Meyer says the note was written by his doctor after the death of Heidi, but before he got George.

Slavik's response: "You can really get a doctor to say anything for you."

Slavik says Meyer could move to another complex managed by Pinnacle Holdings a few miles away that does allow dogs. But he's not willing to waive the standard deposits required of a new renter -- hundreds of dollars that Meyer says he can't afford.

Meyer, who has a booming broadcast voice and a cantankerous nature, says he lives on a monthly fixed income of $1,260 in military pension and social security. He says he has only $400 in the bank.

At Boulder Creek, he says he pays $578 a month for the two-bedroom place; the complex has a swimming pool, among other amenities. Meyer says he can't afford the high rents being charged by other places that allow pets. One complex wanted $800 up front to get in, a $400 pet deposit and an additional $20 a month in doggie rent. The cheaper places he's looked at, he says, "are dumps."

Meyer says he wants to stay at Boulder Creek until the end of his lease so he has time to explore some other options -- like moving to another Arizona city where rents are not so high or trying to find a place in Southern California closer to his daughter and son-in-law.

And the thought of sorting through his stuff, packing it all up and getting it moved overwhelms him. "It's too goddamn much," he says. "I'm almost 80 years old. I thought I'd be having a little fun by now."

Contact Laura Laughlin at her online address: [email protected]

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