It was supposed to be a quiet, relaxing Florida retirement. In the spring of 2004, Maida Genser, her husband, Morton, and their two cats, Spike and Priya, sold their house in Royal Oak, Michigan, and bought a condominium just outside Fort Lauderdale. Genser was about to undergo hip replacement surgery, and the Sunshine State offered a warm climate, affordable real estate, and apartment units where you didn’t have to step up or over anything to get into the shower.
But shortly after her operation, Genser received word from her condo board that the building’s no-pet rule meant she had to give up her cats. (It turned out Genser had been sent an earlier version of the building’s bylaws, which did not forbid pets.) The only loophole was a provision that allowed pets if they were medically necessary.
Genser got a note from her doctor, but the condo board said no deal, because her physician didn’t have a Florida license. Genser got another note, which was rejected on for same reason, but on her third try, this time with a note from a Florida doctor, Genser prevailed.
Along the way, Genser’s personal squabble turned into a statewide campaign to give seniors the right to keep pets in Florida. “When I went before the condo board, the management questioned me, ‘Are you fighting for your own case or are you fighting for others too?’ ” Genser recalls. “I said, ‘I guess both. I think the whole thing is wrong.’ ”
Genser cites studies showing that animals reduce stress, relieve clinical depression, lower blood pressure, and “on and on and on,” she says. “Animals certainly make people feel better. The President of the United States—what does he do when he’s stressed out? He plays with his dog.”
Genser, a former computer analyst for an automobile company, started Citizens for Pets in Condos and set up a Web site where seniors can sign a petition (www.petsincondos.org). At a local community meeting, she met Florida state representative Julio Robaina, a Republican who represents South Miami. According to Genser, Robaina told her he would support her cause if she could get 100 signatures. She’d already collected 1,300.
This year, with Robaina’s support, Genser is working to get a bill passed in Florida’s legislature that would obligate condos, co-ops, trailer parks, and homeowners associations to permit pets if a resident’s doctor says it’s medically necessary. In the future, Genser would like to get legislation passed similar to a 2001 California statute that gives tenants in condos and co-ops the right to keep at least one pet in a unit. This would probably take 50,000 signatures on her petition, though, and right now Genser has around 10,000.
“I’m just a person who sees a need and is doing something,” says Genser. “I don’t know if I’m going to be successful, but I’m going to try anyway.” So much for a laid-back retirement.