Elderly condo owner in violation of pet policy has cats euthanized
Jul 14, 2004
A Burlington senior has followed through on a promise to euthanize her cats after being told she could not keep pets in her condominium unit.
Donalda Nicholson, a resident of The Sands condo on Northshore Boulevard, said she had agonized for months over what to do, whether to fight an eviction notice and keep her pets, leave her unit six months into a two-year lease and take her pets or stay and get rid of her healthy 12-year-old Himalayan cats.
She determined several weeks ago to get rid of the cats rather than giving them to someone else.
Nicholson, who lives alone in her subleased unit, had been ordered by Wilson, Blanchard Management Inc., the building's property management company, to comply with a no-pets policy by July 31 or else vacate her unit.
A May 31 condo board meeting where the pets issue was at the forefront changed nothing.
She said she had moved in aware of the condo's no-pets policy.
Nicholson explained that she had some trouble finding a veterinarian who would euthanize the cats but finally located one at an animal hospital in Oakville.
She said she tried two or three vets in Burlington but was refused.
"I had the cats put down last Thursday. It was hard on me and the vet," she said, her voice trembling.
"I still think it was the most humane thing to do," she added, having said repeatedly over the last few months her belief only she could care for the cats properly.
"What's really hurting me is that the old rules, the bylaws, are more important to them than the health of their neighbours," she said of some of the condo unit owners and the property management company.
A local veterinarian the Post spoke to predicted it would not be easy for Nicholson to have her healthy pets euthanized.
"A vet can choose, if there's not a medical reason to put it down, not to perform it. It would be an ethical decision on the vet's part," said Dr. Barry Burtis of Burlington's Bay Cities Animal Hospital, who writes the Pet Tales column for the Post.
Nicholson's first-floor neighbour and pro-pet compatriot, Carol Davidson, was also ordered to get rid of her pet, a 30-year-old African parrot.
However, she says she won't part with her bird and is looking elsewhere to live.
"I don't want to live anywhere where people don't have compassion," she observed.
"I knew no pets were allowed but I always thought that meant cats or dogs and not birds. I'm not leaving her behind," Davidson said of the parrot. "She says good morning and goodbye to me and sings; she makes me happy," said the widowed woman, a survivor of kidney and breast cancer.
While Davidson is willing to make a clean break, leaving behind a unit she invested $20,000 in, Nicholson realizes she has angered some, not necessarily by staying and having her pets put down.
"It's a very big decision and I'll have to live with it. It'll be very lonely," said the retired registered nurse.
She has said previously that she has a letter from her doctor recommending she be allowed to keep the felines for her emotional well-being.
Nicholson said she had two 16-year-old cats, a Himalayan and a Persian, before her current cats and that they deteriorated in front of her eyes over several years.
"I guess it's a little selfish of me to save myself from suffering. I'm sparing myself and them the suffering. I know how hard it is to watch them suffer."
The property manager of The Sands said his company's no-pets policy has not changed.
"The Condo act supersedes any provisions in the Tenant Protection Act," said Mike Mullen. "The only way pets would be allowed is under human rights, like a seeing eye dog."
Mullen said the company is simply following the wishes of The Sands' unit owners.
"The board has an obligation and duty to enforce the rules. We don't view it as a pleasant situation."
He said the property management firm has received three letters of support for the condo board's position and none in favour of Nicholson.
Mullen noted that if an owner objects to a condo board bylaw they need at least 15 per cent of the owners to sign a petition. Then a meeting can be held with a simple majority required to make any changes.
Nicholson's had offers from individuals and groups to take care of her cats but she's refused them all.
A local no-kill shelter had offered its services.
Animal Aid of Burlington, which finds homes for hundreds of unwanted and lost pets every year, recently wrote a letter to the Post stating the organization is "very concerned" Nicholson is considering euthanasia.
"We have encountered similar situations on a number of occasions in the past and have been able to find loving homes for pets that can no longer be looked after by their owners, for whatever reason. Last year we found homes for more than 750 animals. There is no necessity whatsoever for these cats to be euthanized," Patricia Howard, Animal Aid's secretary, said in the letter.
The Toronto-based Animal Alliance of Canada was also disturbed by Nicholson's intentions.
"I understand what she's saying but it doesn't have to be that way. I don't blame her at all. It's a highly-emotional, highly-disturbing situation," said Liz White, a director of the alliance.
"I think the situations with condos is utterly dreadful. I find it mindboggling that people have so much control over someone's life when it's not a problem," White said of the power of landlords and condo boards.
The animal advocacy group had also offered to help Nicholson.
"I think we would be able to find a home for them, maybe not the same home but a good one in another way."