It’s not easy to take on Village Hall by yourself, but Oak Parker Kathleen Huttner did – and she won.
Huttner began contacting her local government last year when she learned that getting a companion pooch for her pet Schnauzer, Freya, was in violation of the local pet ordinance.
Huttner is a condo dweller and, therefore, allowed only one dog in her unit.
The village ordinance currently limits three dogs to residents of single-family homes and townhomes; two to those in two- or three-flat buildings; and one for those in multi-family buildings with four or more units.
That’s right, anyone with two dogs in an apartment building or condo with more than three units is in violation of the ordinance.
No more, said the Oak Park Board of Trustees at the Feb. 4 meeting.
After a review by the Oak Park Board of Health and a recommendation from Oak Park Health Director Mike Charley, the board of trustees directed village staff to update the ordinance to allow two dogs in multi-unit buildings and return to them for a final vote at a later meeting.
The whole thing started last summer when Huttner filed a complaint with the village and asked trustees to review the matter. “The worst thing would be to get a second dog and be forced to get rid of it,” she told Wednesday Journal in June.
The board’s decision is a moot point for Huttner now because her condo building was recently sold and she’s moving outside the village, she said, but she was thrilled with the outcome for other Oak Parkers.
“I’m happy I could make a difference for other people; I think it’s great,” she said upon learning of the board’s decision.
Huttner said the dog limit played into her decision to look outside the village, and she’s not alone. Trustees Jim Taglia and Simone Boutet said representatives of The Oak Park Regional Housing Center, which works to help find apartments for those in Oak Park, have noted that the pet ordinance has driven away a lot of prospective tenants.
Michael Stewart, technical service director at the housing center, confirmed in a phone interview that it is a regular problem with residents aiming to move to the village.
“I had a client that called me the other day — she was going to move to Oak Park,” he said, adding that she decided to look elsewhere when she found out about the pet ordinance. “They can choose many other suburbs that allow that,” he said.
Florence Miller, chair of the Oak Park Board of Health, said the board conducted a survey of nearly 40 landlords in the village and learned that 60 percent allow tenants to have one dog. Sixty-six percent said they were not interested in increasing the number of dogs allowed in multi-unit buildings.
The board abstained from providing a recommendation, but Charley, when asked, said he supported allowing two dogs. He said the new ordinance could result in more nuisance complaints to the village, but added that the health department has only received 13 in the last five years.
The Board of Health also submitted a review by Health Department staff of 21 other cities in the Chicago area that revealed that Oak Park was relatively unique in its limits on pet ownership. Only three other municipalities – River Forest, River Grove and Skokie – allowed fewer pets in multi-unit buildings than it did in single-family homes.
Trustee Deno Andrews said the government should not decide how many dogs are allowed in any building unless they become a nuisance. Dogs come in different shapes and sizes, too, he said: “Four Chihuahuas is like one German Shepherd.”
Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb and several other trustees also voiced support for giving landlords the option to allow two dogs. “Let the landlord decide how to keep their building occupied,” he said.
Huttner said she’s leaving the village for greener pastures, where she’ll have a yard for Freya and the Schnauzer’s soon-to-be new friend. “They are pack animals and do better in pairs,” she said. “I think (the ordinance change) is a good thing. I’m very happy. The shelters are full of dogs and if someone can give a dog a good home, I think it’s great.”