cats and dogs and sociocracy, and a copy of our pet policy
From: Jerry Koch-Gonzalez (
Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2021 17:28:35 -0700 (PDT)
In my opinion, the outdoor cat issue was the most painful one we've had to
deal with in our 27-yer history. We switched from consensus to dynamic
governance/sociocracy about 8 years ago and only then were we able to
resolve the tensions. Not likely we could have resolved it in meetings of
the whole community of 40-50 people deciding by consensus. When we shifted
to sociocracy, our Community Life Circle took on the responsibility for the
pet policy. The 6 or 7 of us in the ComLife Circle surveyed, interviewed,
researched and drafted a proposal. We shared that proposal with the whole
community, got some feedback, made some minor revisions, and we, the Circle
not the whole community, made the decision on the new policy. That was 7
years ago and not a meow since then. We tackled the dog policy and that
also worked out without problems until someone brought in a too-lively dog
a couple of years ago. We then added an enforceable accountability
mechanism to the policy which led to more training of the dog and its
owners. These aren't perfect policies but the policies and the process by
which we created them have served the community well.
If you want to hear more about sociocracy in community, come to the
Sociocracy in Community Conference on November 20.  More info and the
schedule is on the website:
If you are wondering about the policies we adopted, you will find it below.

Jerry Koch-Gonzalez
Pioneer Valley Cohousing, Massachusetts
To talk to me about sociocracy or NVC, go here:
Sociocracy: Effective Egalitarian Governance.
Check out our website Sociocracy For All <> and
join our mailing list <>.


      Pets enrich the lives of their human companions and of many non-pet
      owners as well. Some pet behaviors trigger concerns about safety and
      comfort for some of the people in the community. With these pet
policies we
      seek to support an environment that welcomes pets and the contributions
      they bring to the community while minimizing any potential
conflict between
      people with pets and those bothered by behaviors of pets. The aim of this
      policy is to create clear accountability for pet and human behavior, and
      support us living together effectively as a community.

      No pets shall be allowed in common buildings. (By-laws) This does not
      apply to service animals. [Note: therapy animals are not allowed
in common
      buildings - they are not service animals). Whether pets are
allowed in the
      private offices of 110 Pulpit Hill Road or the private offices
of the Annex
      is up to those who share responsibility for those spaces. Pets are not
      allowed in the common spaces of the office building or the Annex except
      under control and in transit to the private offices. Exceptions to this
      policy may be considered by the Community Life Circle.

      It is the responsibility of the pet owner to clean up after the pet
      immediately upon the pet depositing feces within the developed
areas of the
      Condominium, including lawns and pathways.(By-laws)

      Pet owners assume full responsibility for their pet’s behavior,
      noise, and damage or droppings. All of us commit to be gracious
when giving
      and receiving information/complaints about pets. Pet owners agree to
      willingly address concerns about their pet(s) that may be/become an
      annoyance to their neighbors.

      When there are complaints about someone’s pet:

         First informally meet with the pet owner and explain complaints to
         the owner. Together generate a plan of action to address the concerns
         including a time to check in on progress.

         If informal meetings do not generate agreed upon action plans or
         if the problem persists, ask for help through the Care &
Counsel Circle.

         If the complainant and the pet owner are unable to resolve their
         differences with the help of the Care & Counsel Circle, then
the Community
         Life Circle may convene a Resolution Group representing a
diverse cross
         section of the community acceptable to the parties in
conflict. This group
         will meet to hear the particulars of the situation and
determine how the
         pet policy should be applied to the given situation. The
Resolution Group
         shall 1) set out the particular solution including actions to
be attempted
         by both parties to alleviate the problem; and 2) establish
what level of
         acceptable behavior (for example, barking) represents the community
         standard for that situation. The parties involved commit to
abiding by the
         actions set out by the Resolution Group.

         If the problem continues, Resolution Group is charged with the
         responsibility to determine any further remedies including
fines or removal
         of the pet from the community.

         Decisions of the Resolution Group may not be appealed.

      Only community members may have dogs and/or outdoor cats in the
      community. Renters who are not associates may not have dogs or
outdoor cats
      in the community. Whole house renters may petition Community Life Circle
      for an exception to this agreement. If a renter associate or whole house
      renter wants an outdoor pet, they first need the approval of the
unit owner
      who is ultimately responsible for the actions of all the
residents of their
      unit. Rationale: Outdoor pets are part of the community so we only want
      outdoor pets that are associated with members of the community
with whom we
      have a relationship.

      Community members are responsible for ensuring that their visitors
      with pets follow community pet policies and are ultimately
responsible for
      the behavior of pets brought in by their visitors.

      A member of the Community Life Circle will have the role of being
      responsible and responsive on pet issues. That person will receive
      complaints about potential violations of pet policies, talk to
the relevant
      parties seeking resolution, and bring unresolved issues to Community Life
      Circle. This person will gather input on pet issues, and that
      information will be used to evaluate the policy. [currently the
pet officer
      is Jerry]


         Any member who does not already have a dog but would like to get
         one, will go through an “add-a-dog” process. This will
involve reading this
         document, talking with their neighbors, and meeting with at least two
         members of the Resolution Group (as designated by the
Resolution Group) who
         may also consult with the Pet Officer. The purpose of this is
to ensure
         that any dog owner is conscious of a dog’s impact on the
community and our
         dog history.


         Always on the leash in the community except as described elsewhere
         in the community pet policies.

         Owner/companion must clean up all droppings except in the areas
         not mowed around the garden and play field.

         Always keep a dog on a ‘short leash’ and under control when
         approaching others.

         Can be in a fenced area or on a dog run in lieu of leash IF under
         the supervision of a designated, responsible person in the house.

         If a dog begins to bark or cause a problem, someone must be
         responsible to bring the dog in.

         Dogs can be off-leash when on the garden side of the road, the
         owner/companion has the dog in sight at all times the dog is
in the mowed
         areas, and the dog does not chase after children, balls, or
cars. Note: if
         a dog cannot be controlled when off-leash to stay in the
designated area,
         it must be put back on the leash.

         A dog may be off-leash in the play field, if the owner/companion
         stays in the field with the dog. People in ongoing play have
precedence –
         dog must be leashed if its presence disturbs or negatively
alters people’s
         activities. The owner/companion must watch carefully to clean up any

         A dog may be off-leash in the built environment of the community
         if it is under voice control, as defined by dog obedience
standards: walk
         at walker’s side at walker's pace, sit when given command,
stay when given
         command, and come to walker from a stay position. Voice
control will be
         determined by the judgment of a testing team appointed by the
         Life Circle. A voice control test protocol will be developed
when the first
         request for this permission is made. A complaint about off-leash dog
         behavior may be brought to any member of the Community Life
Circle and will
         result in immediate moratorium of the off-leash privilege,
which can only
         be reinstated by judgment of a testing team. The dog
companion may request
         another test at any time.” Rationale: In this paragraph, We are
         trying to meet needs in two different directions. For dog
owners we wanted
         to support the possibility of voice control. For people
concerned about dog
         behavior we wanted a system that would reassure them that
allowing voice
         control in the built environment would not be done lightly.

         The dogs of guests and visitors must always be on leash - no
         exceptions. Rationale: the allowances for dogs off-leash in
this policy are
         based on community connections which we do not have with guests and


         One of the concerns regarding barking dogs is that it is very
         difficult to stop dogs from barking altogether and therefore to “ban
         barking” is to insist on the impossible. We realize this and do not
         advocate a total barking ban. We do, however, ask dog owners
to commit to
         taking responsibility for their pets’ noise in our closely clustered

         What is the dog owner’s responsibility to the community? Dog
         owners should try to eliminate certain of their dog’s
behaviors and make
         continuous efforts to reach this goal. For example, barking
out an open
         window or screen porch and howling while home alone.


If a dog bites a person AND it is reported to Town of Amherst Animal
Welfare, that dog must be removed from the community immediately. If the
dog owner would like the dog to return to the community, the dog owner may
request a Resolution Group to assess the situation and make a decision.
Rationale: Safety first - biting is a serious issue and a dog that has
bitten should be removed from the community while there is discussion or
debate about what to do. While the dog owner and those affected by the
biting may have different opinions about the seriousness of the issue, we
define seriousness by the clear marker of willingness to report the
incident. Because removal of a dog is also an action with impact, we open
the possibility of a dog’s return to the community public spaces outdoors
based on the Resolution Group’s review.



Dog owners will take responsibility to train their dogs so they do not
negatively impact the community. Community Life will recommend trainers. By
training, we mean an intentional program with effective results to deal
with behaviors such as:


   Jumping, lunging, nipping/barking, chasing, barking at people or other
   animals (cats, chickens, dogs, etc.)

   Noise / sustained barking in public or at home


      BACKGROUND. All of us have things that enrich our lives. For some of
      us it is gardening, carpentry, cooking, music or pets (cats, for
      Unfortunately, some of the very things that enrich some members’ lives,
      others might find troublesome. For years we had controversy about cats
      outside. Some people have wanted to limit or ban cat presence
outdoors for
      various reasons, such as: cats killing birds and other animals, cats
      triggering dogs to bark, cats pooping in children’s sandboxes,
cats causing
      damage to plantings or screen doors, cats as disease and tick vectors. On
      the other hand cat owners have wanted to let their cats outside
for various
      reasons, such as: it is too hard to keep cats indoors, to give cats the
      experience of the outdoors, to keep cats more physically fit, for the
      enjoyment of cat–human interactions, and for the reduction of rodent
      population. The reasons for and against outdoor cats are held so strongly
      that neither no outdoor cats nor unlimited outdoor cats is a
viable policy
      option. We therefore choose the compromise of a limit on the number of
      outdoor cats as a contribution to a different need: living together as a

      NUMBER LIMIT. There is an upper limit of 5 outdoor cats. Only members
      may have outdoor cats. There is a limit of one outdoor cat per
unit, except
      as otherwise allowed in this policy.

      PHOTOS. Cat owners will post photos of cats on the community website
      with owners’ names so people can contact owners with concerns and

      RESPONSIBILITY. Cat owners assume full responsibility for their
      outdoor cat’s behavior, noise, damage, and droppings. All of us commit to
      be gracious when giving and receiving information/complaints
about outdoor
      cats. Cat owners agree to willingly address concerns about their pet(s)
      that may be/become an annoyance to their neighbors, including
      in conflict resolution processes. Each cat owner agrees to be fully
      responsible for her/his own outdoor cat and to respond
immediately when cat
      problems cannot be attributed to a particular cat. If the specific cat
      cannot be identified and the problem requires more time, like repairing a
      torn screen or replacing a plant, the outdoor cat owners
collectively agree
      to promptly remedy the problem. To remedy any problem, the person who has
      suffered the damage only needs to inform the cat’s owner or, if the
      specific cat is not known, any outdoor cat owner.

      RECOMMENDATION. The community strongly recommends that cats be spayed
      or neutered, that outdoor cats wear bells, and that cats remain
indoors as
      much as possible, especially during peak bird feeding times.

      NON-OWNERS’ DISCIPLINE OF CATS. Non-cat owners are invited to
      discipline outdoor cats when their presence is unwanted. Spray
bottles with
      water are the most effective in chasing a cat from a porch, deck
or garden.
      Cats will avoid areas where they are stunned by water or loud noise,
      neither of which is harmful. The cat should respond by avoiding the (now)
      unpleasant area after a couple firm warnings.

      ADD-A-CAT PROCESS. Any member who does not already have an outdoor
      cat but would like to get one, will go through an “add-a-cat”
process. This
      will involve reading this document, talking with their neighbors, and
      meeting with a group of people designated by the Community Life
Circle. The
      purpose of this is to ensure that any new outdoor cat owner is
conscious of
      a cat’s impact on the community and our outdoor cat history.

      bring their 1 or 2 existing outdoor cats into the community as
long as the
      resulting total number does not exceed 7 outdoor cats. If there are 7
      outdoor cats and there are potential buyers with outdoor cats, the
      Community Life Circle will convene to consider the situation. New owner
      members will follow the Add-A Cat Process before moving into the

      REPLACE-A-CAT PROCESS. If there are openings for outdoor cats, a
      member simply notifies Community Life Circle that they want to replace
      their outdoor cat. A member replacing an outdoor cat need not repeat the
      Add-A-Cat Process again, since previous outdoor cat owners have already
      been through the process and are familiar with the history of cat issues
      here. If a member has two outdoor cats and one of those leaves,
it will not
      be replaced.

      ISSUES RELATED TO THE TOP LIMIT. If there are more than 5 outdoor
      cats, then the aim is to bring the number back down to 5 or below through
      natural attrition. If the limit of 5 outdoor cats is reached and
      members want outdoor cats, then Community Life Circle will start
an ordered
      waiting list. When there are 4 outdoor cats, and more than one
member wants
      an outdoor cat, Community Life Circle may convene the group of
members who
      would like an outdoor cat and help them make a decision or the Community
      Life Circle may use any other method to resolve the situation.
Waiting list
      order may be one of a number of factors considered in the decision.

      ACCOUNTABILITY: If a member believes another member is not honoring
      this policy, first approach them individually. If concerns are
not resolved
      in informal ways, then seek help through the Community Life Circle.

      DEFINITION OF CAT OWNER. For the purposes of this agreement, cat
      owner is defined as the adult owner(s) of the unit in which the cat
      resides, regardless of whether the pet is owned by a child, a partner,
      relative, etc. Unrelated renters may not have outdoor cats.

      Current outdoor cats live in Units 3, 7, 27.

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