“SEND a picture of your dog, ya,” whatsapp-ed the real estate agent. “Owner wants to see.”

After a few weeks of looking for a new home, the love of my life and I were closing in on the deal. “It’s our final interview, Bella, now look happy,” I begged, pointing the phone in her direction only to acquire a series of blurred rear-end shots. “Come on, Bella, just one smile,” I urged. “Our entire future rests in your paws.”

The new place will be the third in Bella’s short but so far fulfilling life. The first was a townhouse, the second a house, and now we’re heading for high life, an abode in a 43-storey new condominium.

If we were living in Australia, which has one of the highest pet ownerships in the world, we would be having a much harder time finding either a condo or an apartment to call home. Surprised?

Despite 60 per cent of households having an animal companion as reported by the Animal Health Alliance, with dogs slightly ahead of cats in the statistics, anecdotal evidence points to dogs being banned from the majority of strata schemes. In other words, even if your potential landlord has fallen hopelessly in love with your furry or fluffy other-half at interview-point, he or she will still need to obtain permission from the Owners Corporation, the management body comprising all the owners. And the answer is often a resounding “no”.

So how did the city of Kuala Lumpur ironically become a potential paradise for dog owners, almost overnight?

One answer lies in the simple economics of supply and demand. In 2015, global real estate research provider Savills reported that there were 21,069 luxury units priced above RM800 per 0.09 sq m in Kuala Lumpur, a figure well out of reach for middle-Malaysia. But consumer caution ushered in from the introduction of the GST, a weakening ringgit and a general oversupply of condominiums meant that investors had to become innovative, and fast.

One of those ways was to grant the owner/tenant permission to have a dog.

Now I’ll be plainly honest. I can’t afford to live in pet-friendly Sunway Palazzio Sri Hartamas, Ken Bangsar or Suria Stonor KLCC. Even if I could, I’d sooner set up camp in a place with a small patch of grass in this sprawling spectacular city of ours.

But one of the flow-on effects of dogs being permitted to reside in luxury condominiums is that the older ones (which haven’t seen a coat of paint since the mid-1990s), are forced to readjust their outlook lest a potential tenant find an alternative from an increasing plethora of choices. And then there’s also the mindset of some the landlords to take advantage of; why bother installing a kitchen cabinet when the unit can be leased out to tenant with a dog?

Another significant change favouring dog owners wanting to live in condominiums are amendments made to the Strata Management Act, as well as further clarification on city council by-laws. Each city council has a different set of by-laws regarding dogs living in apartments and high rises, with Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) giving dogs tentative legal status.

LEGALLY SPEAKING

For dog owners wanting to rent either a condo or an apartment, changes to the Strata Management Act in 2015, combined with the DBKL’s 2011 bill on the ‘Maintenance of Dogs in Residential Buildings (Condominium or Apartment)’, were welcomed.

Late last year lawyer Pretam Singh argued that By-Law 14 in the Third Schedule of the Strata Management (maintenance & management) Regulations 2015 does not prohibit the keeping of any animal (pets) in a stratified scheme “...but only those that may cause annoyance or nuisance”.

“Annoyance and nuisance”, he asserted, had different meanings and are entirely subjective, arguing emphatically that owners do not even have to obtain permission from the condominium management because the Third Schedule technically permits dogs.

According to Pretam, provided that there’s no local council law specifically prohibiting a dog, owners of pooches can live in apartments or high rises happily ever after.

DBKL permits one small breed dog in high rises (so your Great Dane called Hamlet is not to be), but as I discovered as a prospective tenant, various condominium management bodies still yield substantial control over whether one can keep a dog or not.

Bella and I got loads of rejections but at the same time, we found quite a few agents who were very willing to help us with our request. I wanted everything to be above board so I was honest as I didn’t want to resort to the old trick of sneaking her in and out of the condo in an eco-friendly shopping bag.

THE HIGH LIFE

Just over a week has passed since our big move, and so far everything has turned out for the better. Bella misses landed suburban life even though our house was falling apart. But here, there are no paper lama trucks to chase or motorised street hawkers balancing packets of coloured popcorn and crisps to say “hello” to; no pack of stray dogs to contend with or nightly chats with our local imam, Khan, from Pakistan.

Our lives have become quieter and significantly more mundane, but not entirely without adventure.

In less than a week, Bella has befriended the local community, bestowing her love and affection upon all those who greet her with the same. Her daily walks have increased to two, though her preference is for three.

A golden retriever that lives in the apartment block next door in the same unit with two other medium-sized dogs is currently her best friend. And while the mirrors in the elevator continue to confuse her as does the tempered glass balcony railing designed to give uninterrupted views of the city, Bella is one happy dog.

An annoyance or a nuisance? Fingers crossed, no. Not yet.

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