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Adopting a Dog with a Roommate Isn’t as Crazy as It Sounds

Here’s how to avoid a pet sharing disaster, according to dog owners and experts alike.

by Anita Hamilton
Sep 21 2018, 5:14pm

Photo collage by Elizabeth Renstrom

Finding the perfect roommate is a little like falling in love. The chemistry has to be right or it’s a no go. So when someone I was considering living with told me she had all the same hobbies as me— including biking, hiking, and cooking—I couldn’t believe my good luck. After months of meeting people who were all wrong, things were finally looking up.

But when her eyes lit up as I casually mentioned that I had fantasized about getting a dog, I knew she was the one. She wanted a dog too! While I had been thinking about this for a while, the thought of the pup being cooped up all day while I was at work, along with the prospect of paying a dog walker hundreds of dollars a month, put a serious damper on my enthusiasm. So I put my dream on hold.

Now that my fantasy was a real possibility, I had to think fast. I told my soon-to-be roommate I was open to it, but we’d need to talk more about the details. “Right, first we need to get to know each other first,” she pointed out. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I needed some advice from the pros, so I checked with a veterinarian, a dog lawyer, pet rescues and dog lovers to get a better idea of what, exactly, we were getting ourselves into.

More love (+ walks and playtime) for the pup

The first thing I had to figure out is whether this was a good idea in the first place. “I think it’s a great idea,” said Cat Warren, author of What the Dog Knows. “I think that pets are wonderful and it’s not always the case that you’re in a situation where your life is perfectly settled and you’re going to wait.”

“The more people who can love and care for a pet the better,” added Lori Teller, a veterinarian in Houston who serves on the board of directors of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

"It's a growing trend and any responsible rescue would at least entertain the idea," said Karen Bhagwat, founder of Safe and Sound Rescue in Michigan.

Bella, a five-year-old pit mix rescue dog, looks out the door of her home in Oakland, California, where she lives with three human roommates. Photo courtesy of Rick Paulas.

Having a pet with a roommate can also make you feel less like strangers sharing a space and more like friends. “It’s a shared interest and a place to bond,” Teller said. The key here, of course, is that you’re equally committed to living with the animal, especially if you’re sharing a small apartment. “You just have to make sure that both of you feel bonded to the dog,” said Katherine Gladwin, who has a pit bull mix and has lived with roommates.

Poodle or pit bull?

Once you’re sure you want a dog, the next step is to figure out what kind to get. I know I want a rescue dog, but I’m also worried about dog hair, so I’d rather get one that’s hypoallergenic. (So maybe a poodle mix?) We also both agree that we don’t want a puppy since we aren’t home enough to potty train it.

Bernie is a seven-year-old Terrier mix rescue who lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York with the Buechner family. Photo courtesy of MM Buechner.

Since we live in an apartment building, the pup needs to be relatively quiet, mellow and extremely well socialized too. “If you live in an apartment and the dog has ‘stranger danger’ it’s not ideal for them,” says Jennifer Hopkins, marketing director for Friends 4 Life, a no-kill shelter in Houston, Texas.

The key here is that all roommates agree. “If one wants a miniature Dachshund and the other wants and Irish wolfhound then it might not work,” Warren said. That said, you don’t necessarily need a small dog just because you share a small space. “Great Danes make great apartment dogs because they are very lazy," Hopkins said.

This will clearly be something for us to discuss, but this guide to the best dogs for apartment dwellers from the American Kennel Club lets you sort by everything from barking level to shedding. I like this list from Dogtime too. (Maybe a Havanese?)

House rules

Is it okay to feed Fido table scraps? Who gives the dog its last walk before bedtime? What happens if the pup chews someone’s shoe or a corner of the couch? To answer these, and more pressing questions like who takes it to the vet or who’s liable if the dog bites a neighbor or another animal at the dog park, you’ll want some kind of written agreement that lays out who’s financially responsible and who’s the primary caregiver. Donna Reynolds, who runs Badrap, a rescue in Oakland, California that adopts out pit bulls and Huskies, recommends a roommate agreement that covers the following:

Who’s in charge of feeding and walking the dog?
Are any areas of the living space off limits?
Who’s in charge of cleaning up after the dog?
Who’s in charge of training the dog?
Who pays veterinary bills?
Who pays for any property damage or injuries to others caused by the dog?

To insure or not to insure your dog

While lots of people advise both health insurance and rental insurance that covers your pet—Reynolds recommends State Farm insurance where she’s seen rates as low as $300 a year for a $300,000 policy—others say it’s up to you. “I’ve never had any of that and I’ve never had an issue,” said Friends 4 Life’s Hopkins, who has two pit bulls and a Terrier mix.

The average monthly cost for pet health insurance for your dog was $42 in 2017, according to ValuePenguin. Chart courtesy of ValuePenguin

Insurance costs can add up fast, and often come with a big deductible, so think long and hard about what makes the most sense for your budget. The average cost of an accident and illness plan for a dog in 2017 was $42, according to a 2017 ValuePenguin survey. If you’re the nervous type, you can even get standalone pet liability insurance (starting at around $10 a month) that will cover you if you let someone else walk the dog and it bites another person or animal away from your home.

Landlord problems

Before you get too excited about your new furry friend, make sure your landlord allows pets. Some rescues will actually check with your landlord, so it’s good to give them a heads up beforehand. “When we do our adoption application checks, we call the apartment management to verify if there are any breed, size, or age restrictions on pets,” said Friends 4 Life’s Hopkins.

Some larger dogs actually work well in apartments. Goose, a Great Dane who lives in West Islip, New York, lounges on the couch. Photo courtesy of David Bertozzi.

Pit bulls and huskies are among the most commonly excluded breeds. “Larger breeds are less attractive to landlords because the tendency to larger amounts of damage,” Badrap’s Reynolds said. You can try to negotiate with your landlord if they’re on the fence by getting a renters insurance policy that covers pets or offering to pay a larger security deposit in case of damage.

Whose dog is it?

The biggest—and toughest—question you’ll need to figure out with your roommate is who has legal ownership of the dog. Most rescues I spoke with recommended having one owner if you have a roommate to avoid a custody battle when you eventually go your separate ways, but it’s really up to you.

You can agree to joint ownership, but rescues typically adopt to just one person so at the very least you’ll need to agree whose name goes on the adoption papers. What’s more, “there is only one spot for the owner’s name on the microchip” you get at the vet to help identify the dog if it gets lost, dog law expert and lawyer Jeremy Cohen said. You can, however, list multiple owners on vet records.

If you choose to co-own the dog, make sure to state that in a written agreement that lays out who gets custody once you are no longer living together. You should also stipulate who is the primary financial owner of the dog and who is the main caretaker. “Have a third party listen to both of you and sign it as a witness to the agreement,” Cohen advises, in order to make the document hold up in court if challenged.

But while an agreement is important, keep it short and to the point. “You could drive yourself nuts and write a twenty-page document and that would take all the fun out of it,” Cohen said. Instead, focus your time and energy on the joy of sharing your life with an animal you will almost surely grow to love.

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