Moving Beyond Breed Restrictions

August 12, 2016 | We Learn | Story by Juliette Spirson
Recently I had to find a new place to live — fun, right? Well, not really. Living in San Francisco is hard enough — a recent study pegged the city as the most expensive in the country, and many young people start their lives here living in someone else’s closet. After four years living downtown, I found myself needing somewhere to live again.

Except I had just gotten my dog Laika, a Staffordshire Terrier and Boxer mix, and I had no idea what that would mean.

I estimate that I contacted almost 100 rentals in the six weeks prior to moving — it felt like I talked to every apartment management company, every landlord, and every old lady with an in-law unit. Trying to save money is one thing, but when it came to bringing my dog along, pickings got even slimmer. You see, in a city where every tiny studio is in high demand, apartment buildings often opt for insurance policies that cover pets under a certain weight or with certain “breed restrictions”. The most common bans all Pit Bull breeds, along with Rottweilers, Dobermans, and German shepherds. One complex (Park Merced) accepted us, but only bothered to look at our application when we had already made a $500 deposit and arrived to sign a lease, even bigger check in hand. “Staffordshire Terrier?” a girl I will resent forever sneered, “That’s a Pit Bull.”

Firstly, no it isn’t, or I would have written that on my application. I had Laika’s DNA tested and I know that she doesn’t have an ounce of American Pit Bull Terrier in her. Staffordshire Terriers are still in the bully family, but so are French Bulldogs, and neither are expressly prohibited in most buildings. Secondly, so what? I believe that all dog owners, not just pit owners, must take responsibility for their animal’s behavior, and that you can’t judge a dog without looking at their training and handling. My dog is trained and insured. She’s a therapy animal who has changed multiple people’s minds about “scary looking dogs” and even inspired friends and family to adopt their own. She has a doggy resume filled with recommendations from her vet and my old landlord alike. It didn’t matter, though, until we stretched our budget and lowered our standards to a place outside the city — found with just two days to spare for moving out.

And yet my takeaway from all of wasn’t about the negative experience of moving with a certain type of dog. I don’t control the market. At the end of the day I’m grateful for the blessing that being forced out of the city turned out to be. Because behind my house is Sign Hill.


“At the end of the day I’m grateful for the blessing that being forced out of the city turned out to be.”

If you’ve ever flown into SFO from the west and seen a hillside with “South San Francisco, The Industrial City,” then you’ve seen Sign Hill. Hikers and day-drinkers alike flock to the letters on hot days, walking on them, taking pictures on giant letters that represent their names. But there’s a lot to the park. It has multiple residential entrances, and each area has its own charm. The top of the hill has bay views, steep climbs to work out your legs, and a beautiful wooded hillside to throw sticks for your dog. I also love the bottom of the hill, where Eucalyptus Loop Trail makes a .27 mile circle through trees that scent and surround you. A few times around and your dog will wear right out.

During the day I keep Laika on the leash and on the lower trails, but in the evenings we’re usually the only ones braving the fog and wind at the top of the hill. It’s magical being surrounded by clouds and looking at the place where you live from the highest vantage point possible. From sitting on the letters in the middle of summer with a couple of beers to running to the top of the hill to catch the sunset, it’s the best part of where I live. I spend several evenings a week there, playing with Laika, and thinking the thoughts that come with true privacy and a brisk wind.

I’m glad I’m here. I know that one day, soon perhaps, I’ll need to move again. I can only hope that I’m forced again into such a lucky corner.

Do you have a story about your own breed-based housing adventure? Please share!

Laika running



Leave a comment!


  • Virtual Private Server / August 1, 2017

    Is talking about dogs primarily in terms of breed helpful to animal welfare goals, or are we unwittingly reinforcing stereotypes and preventing successful adoption matches?

    • admin / August 2, 2017

      That is a great question. Talking openly about breeds help to bring awareness to breed specific issues (legislation, bias, etc.) but I think your question is a good one in that it could perpetuate the issues with potential adopters…I wonder how others feel about this. Thank you so much for the comment, it is a really thoughtful way to spark conversation.

Don't miss a Bark!

Sign up for monthly news from Barkswell.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This