Walking is tough for Velvet Mingal. At 12 years old, the Border-collie mix suffers from arthritis and a degenerative disc. Her owners, Victor and Eileen Mingal, describe her as “extremely gentle.”
What Velvet doesn’t know is that she’s the subject of controversy at Spanish Main Yacht Club, where her owners live part time. Velvet weighs in at 38 pounds, more than the 25-pound weight limit that the condominium has for pets.
Velvet is one of approximately six or seven dogs that, according to Spanish Main residents, could exceed the condominium’s weight limit.
John Clay says that his 12-year-old Keeshond, Meiko, weighs approximately 25 pounds.
Jim McGuire says that, at 25 pounds, his Boston terrier, Monty, is bigger than most.
“He’s on the fence,” said McGuire, who is a Spanish Main board member. “The rule is kind of flimsy.”
After receiving multiple complaints, Spanish Main’s board formed a pet committee to explore pet issues within the condominium. The pet committee sent surveys to each owner at the 212-unit condominium asking 10 questions, including if certain breeds should be banned, whether the weight limit should remain and whether pets should be banned outright.
The committee sent the surveys to owners with the minutes of the May 7 board meeting and asked that they be anonymously completed and returned by June 19.
The controversy began brewing in late December, when a resident spotted Velvet toward the back of the Mingals’ unit. That resident sent a letter to the board, which sent a letter to the Mingals ordering them to get rid of the dog.
Victor Mingal said that he and his wife didn’t intend to bring Velvet when they bought their unit in February 2008. The Mingals say they originally arranged for a pet sitter, in Williamsville, N.Y., to care for the dog during the months they spent on Longboat Key. But Velvet developed a degenerative problem, and her veterinarian advised that she needed more care than her pet sitter or kennel could provide. So, the Mingals brought her to Spanish Main.
In hindsight, Victor Mingal said that he should have approached the board immediately about the dog.
Since December, the Mingals have gone before the board on three occasions to get permission to keep their dog. They also read a statement of apology to the board and residents for not telling them about Velvet. The board granted them an exception with documentation from Velvet’s veterinarian. At a following meeting, a group presented a petition against the decision and got 78 signatures. The board later decided to form the pet committee to explore the issue.
“We’ve gone through a lot of grief all winter,” Victor Mingal said.
An attorney for Spanish Main ruled that giving the Mingals an exception amounted to selective enforcement, because other dogs in the condominium most likely weigh more than 25 pounds.
Many residents who oppose the exception say the issue is one about rules, not about pets.
“I love pets, and I love pets of all sizes,” said Spanish Main resident Ruth Sheppard. “But I think that the law should have been upheld or the law should have been changed.”
“If you have a condominium, you have to go by the rules,” said resident Barbara Speed.
Some pet owners hope that the condominium will, eventually, look at the breed of animals instead of the weight.
Jim Cameron, chair of the pet committee, said that Spanish Main’s board researched pet issues and found that many condominiums were moving away from weight restrictions and toward bans on specific breeds.
“There are lots of problems with doing an effective control using weight limit as a rule,” he said.
In some instances, according to Cameron, pet owners adopt or buy a mixed breed and don’t know how big the animals will get. In other cases, pets gain weight as they age.
Cameron said that the debate allows board members to know how the community feels about pets. In the fall, residents could vote on pet-related issues.
“We don’t know what the majority thinks,” Cameron said. “This dog kind of sets a dialogue in motion.”
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