It might be raining cats and dogs in strata these days but apartment owners with a taste for the exotic  – like giant rhinocerous cockroaches and spinifex hopping mice – are stretching the boundaries of what can’t be ‘unreasonably’ refused.

With default by-laws changed so that pets are more likely to be permitted, many owners corporations are waking up to the reality that 30 percent of the population owns companion animals –  that’s a big chunk of potential buyers and tenants to exclude when your property comes up for sale or rent.

But which animals are best for strata living? The RSPCA recommends cats, guinea pigs and rabbits – they can all be house-trained and cats live longer and don’t kill native animals when they are kept indoors.

“Cats have a streak of independence – they will just find a cosy corner and sleep while you’re not home,” says Melissa Catt of Paddington Cat Hospital.  “But they also jump up and over balconies, usually in pursuit of birds, or can occasionally fall from window ledges so you have to be careful.”

Small, yappy, territorial dogs, hard-wired to respond to any noise outside their doors, are universally agreed to be among the worst apartment pets. However one Jack Russell was recently allowed by a District Court to stay in a Pyrmont flat, despite by-laws banning pets, as it was designated a hearing assistance dog.

Is any dog suitable for apartment living?  While there is a body of opinion that it’s wrong to leave dogs alone all day, at least unit blocks offer the opportunity for potential dog-sitters and a lively business for professional dog walkers.

One answer, of course, is to get two dogs or a dog and a cat.

Some buildings limit the size of permitted dogs so would a Great Dane be too big a deal? In fact they are widely believed to be the perfect apartment pet because they barely require any exercise.

But it’s not all pusses and pooches; pets range from the benign to the bizarre via the completely bonkers.  Spreading damp through one block of units was tracked back to a resident who’d flooded his balcony and installed goldfish.

Complaints about small dogs frequently barking after midnight in a Kings Cross building revealed that a neighbour was a drug dealer and his ‘runners’ were setting off the four-legged alarms.

And the billing and cooing of caged lovebirds prompted a hate campaign by unromantic neighbours in a Potts Point apartment block.

On a more serious note, with large numbers of retirees down-sizing into apartments and townhouses, companion animals become even more important, especially following a bereavement.

“For elderly people who have lost a long-term life partner, the companionship offered by a small dog or cat can be a very significant factor in their quality of life,” says Dr Peter Holsworthy of the Animal Health Alliance, who says there are other social benefits of pet ownership.

“Pets can bring a sense of community to larger buildings and city locations. They trigger conversation and positive social interaction between strangers.”

Just don’t let next door’s cat interact with your hopping mice and you’ll be fine. And remember, even if a block is “pet friendly” you probably still need permission for your particular little chum.

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