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Condo canine spas: I’ll take the mani-pedi and milkbone package

Special to National Post Feb 3, 2012 – 10:07 AM ET | Last Updated: Feb 7, 2012 1:34 PM ET

By Alex Newman

We give them birthday presents, sign their names on cards and letters and talk to them over the phone. Pets are such a significant part of Canadian life, we spend upwards of $8-billion a year on them, up from $3-billion 10 years ago.

The trend has even made its way into condo buildings. “Twenty years ago, there was no such thing as a dog spa,” says Scott Newhouse, vice-president of Simmera, which manages dozens of condos in the GTA. However, today there are several condo projects sporting fully equipped pet spas.

Such features have emerged because developers approach amenities by considering “how people really live,” says Brian Brown, vice-president of Lifetime Developments.

As a dog owner, condo CEO Paul Golini Jr., shown with Luigi at Clarence Square, knows the value of a pet spa.

Since 50% of us live with pets, according to Stats Can, developers who might never have thought of pet-focused amenities are now poring over floor plans to see where best to locate washing and grooming stations. Menkes, for example, which has built several luxury projects downtown, is on the cusp of including pet spas in two upcoming projects, Fabrik and 365 Church. That’s due to demand, says Mimi Ng, vice-president of marketing. “[People] in the sales office often ask if the building will be pet-friendly,” she says.

Furry suite mates need walks (plus their little feet track in water and muck), so canine spas are smart from a maintenance standpoint. Where they’re located is equally important, points out Christina Giannone, development project manager for Fram Building Group. “[We install them] at grade, preferably near the underground parking, so you can walk right in to the public space, clean dog in tow,” she says.

With unit sizes shrinking, buyers like bathing and grooming Fido outside their suite. It’s not easy to lift a dog into a soaker tub in your condo, so having equipment outdoors — including a spray nozzle and a separate tub and shower — is handy. Besides, it’s a basic amenity that’s easy to provide and doesn’t take up much public space, Ms. Ng adds.

Even non-pet owners like the notion of a spa for furry friends, says Shane Fenton, vice-president of Reserve Properties. He says that’s because it keeps public spaces clean. At Bellefair and Lakehouse, his two mid-rise projects in the Beach, where dog ownership is among the city’s highest per capita, the pet spa gets rid of not only dirt, but sand, too.

Maintenance is a big issue when there are pets in the building, as Lanterra chairman Mark Mandelbaum knows from experience. Of specific concern is how carpeting in public areas will stand up. So, the decision to be pet-friendly at their 3018 Yonge condo property included not just a pet spa but durable carpets as well.

Mr. Fenton believes the need for pet amenities depends a lot on demographics. In his experience, most young urban professional buyers don’t have pets, but downsizing Boomers do. Mr. Brown, on the other hand, has seen an increase in pets among the buyers at Lifetime’s Liberty Village Lofts — and most of them are in the 20- to 40-year-old age range.

Location is also a factor. At three Fram Building Group projects, for example — Don Mills (Flaire), Port Credit (North Shore) and Collingwood (Shipyards) — most buyers are downsizing from a house with pets in tow, Ms. Giannon says. Each location is surrounded by paths and parks, which she says is a draw for dog owners.

In some locations, the demand for pet spas just isn’t there. Mr. Fenton says pets were “not top of mind” at two Reserve projects — Motif at Ossington and Queen, and Rise in Forest Hill — so a pet spa wasn’t even suggested.

These findings jibe with a 2009 map designed by Patrick Cain (for the Toronto Star) showing where most city dogs live: the Beach, Long Branch, High Park, Rosedale, Lawrence Park and around Harbourfront.

Location and demographics aside, the interest in pet amenities indicates another shift in the condo market. As more people opt to buy into the condo lifestyle for the long-term (instead of as a stepping stone to a house) more are acquiring pets sooner.

To Mr. Brown, this indicates pet owners are more responsible, have greater respect for the buildings they live in, and that pets no longer come with the same issues they once did. He believes the increase of pets at Lifetime’s Liberty Village Lofts might be due to many owners working next door to the commercial spaces of Liberty Market building. “There’s a strong demand to live close to where you work,” he says, partly because of the opportunity to run home at lunch to care for your dog. That also tells him pet owners are becoming more responsible towards their pets, which translates into more respect for the buildings in which they live, thereby reducing the issues that used to come with pet ownership.

Whether pet amenities garner higher sales, though, is harder to determine, says Paul Golini Jr., CEO of Empire Communities. “It’s one of those intangibles that contributes to the overall attractiveness of a project, and adds a checkmark to a buyer’s list because it increases flexibility, even for an investor renting out.”

In Rain, Empire’s Oakville project, the building is not only pet-friendly — owners are permitted up to two pets and no weight restrictions — it also offers a pet spa. Mr. Golini says this was key in Oakville where residents “love their dogs.” This is evidenced by the proliferation of dog-related boutiques in the downtown core, he says. That said, Oakville isn’t overly familiar with the condo lifestyle. “Including pet spas was a means to educate the community that they don’t have to give up things to live in a condo — and that includes their pets,” Mr. Golini explains.

Like all things, there’s a not-so-warm-and-fuzzy side to the story, says Simmera’s Mr. Newhouse, who has seen a lot over his property-managing career. In a building of 350 units, he estimates there’s at least one accident a day in halls or elevators, occasional dog fights, and the potential of noise with just “six inches separating one unit from another.”

In spite of developers making provisions, there’s no guarantee pets will be allowed long-term, because the condo board makes the rules. However, rules only come about through majority owner vote, and anyone purchasing a suite when the building is still pet-friendly will be “grandfathered” in — that is, existing pets allowed, but new pets won’t be.

Some condo boards have a weight restriction — pets must be under 25 or 30 pounds. Mr. Mandelbaum remembers the “hullabaloo” concerning the restriction in his own building, One Bedford. The condo board eventually “backed off, because 50% of the owners had dogs,” he says. “It’s just a fact of life.”

Besides, Mr. Mandelbaum says, “I’m not a dog owner, but it’s charming to see all the different dog types. My kids go up and down the elevator and know most of them by name.”

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