By Susan Redden
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
You see them on sidewalks in downtown Joplin -- many in the area of Second and Main streets and Fifth and Main streets. They're downtown dogs -- apartment dwellers with their masters -- who have grown used to riding elevators and looking for that elusive patch of grass.
Dogs are allowed at Messenger Towers, at the corner of Second and Main streets, and at Main Street Lofts, three blocks to the south. Many of the tenants chose the apartments because they allow pets, including some tenants who migrated there from traditional homes with yards after the 2011 tornado.
Leroy Wheeler lived near 20th Street and Florida Avenue with his dalmatian, Molly, until their home was destroyed by the tornado. Wheeler said he always walked Molly around their old neighborhood.
There was not that much of an adjustment when he moved downtown, because he continues to walk her every day.
"I always walked her four miles a day at least, and sometimes six. I've had her 10 years and we've walked 12,000 miles together," Wheeler said. "She's sort of a celebrity downtown, because everyone has seen her and she loves everybody. There are not that many dalmatians in Joplin."
Tornado forges special bond
Wheeler said after the tornado, there was no question that when he found a new home, Molly would be a part of it. So when Ron Robson, a longtime friend and former neighbor, offered him his extra bedroom at Main Street Lofts, he jumped at the opportunity -- once he knew that dogs were allowed.
"Molly and I went through the tornado together," he said. "I think we both thought we were going to die that day. And she still gets extremely nervous when there's a storm. She won't go out when there's thunder or lightning."
After 30 years in a single-family home, Wheeler said he never would have believed that he and Molly would become apartment dwellers.
"She's adjusted quite well," he said. "She's fine with the elevator, and in the apartment she either sleeps on the couch or on my bed."
Emily Dunavent, manager of Main Street Lofts, said occupants of 12 of the 26 units there have pets.
"They're important," she said. "Their pets are family."
The complex charges a pet deposit. Pets must be spayed or neutered and must be up to date on vaccinations.
"They're supposed to be leashed, and owners are expected to clean up after their pets. All that's in the lease," she said.
Requirements are generally the same at Messenger Towers, according to Paula Koch, apartment manager. Only a single pet per apartment is allowed; they are supposed to be at least a year old and less than 20 pounds.
"We've had people decide not to rent here because they have more than one dog," she said.
At least 30 of the tenants that occupy the 130 units in the building are pet owners, Koch said. She said dogs have not posed any serious problems in the building.
"Once in a while, one dog will be getting off the elevator and another will be getting on and they'll bark at one another," Koch said. "Seems like, the smaller they are, the louder they are."
Karen Clayton has lived at messenger Towers for five years and got Pebbles, her Yorkshire terrier, two years ago. As she was walking her dog, clad in a sweater and pink halter, Clayton acknowledged that Pebbles falls into the "small and noisy" category. But, she said the dog is growing used to riding the elevator and encountering other people and dogs in the complex.
She said it's important to be able to live in a place that allows dogs, adding "she's my company."
Main Street Lofts has no limit on size of dogs allowed -- one couple has a St. Bernard there -- or the number of dogs in an apartment. Dunavent said she can use her own discretion in allowing dogs.
"We don't have a size limit or a breed ban," she said. "If there's a question, I can ask to meet the dog in advance."
Krystal Davis has a full-grown greyhound, adopted after years of racing, and Dutchie, a Shih Tzu. Her roommate has a Yorkie named Carmen. Also prowling the two-bedroom loft are two cats, Nala and Gary.
Davis said she had rented a house in Carl Junction, but always had wanted to live in downtown Joplin.
"So, when a loft came available, I jumped at the chance," she said. "But it had to be a place that takes pets, because I wouldn't have moved without them."
Though there have been few problems from most pets at Main Street Lofts, the experience has not been trouble-free, Dunavent said. One tenant apparently didn't provide -- either indoors or out -- for her three dogs' bathroom breaks.
"We had to refinish the floors and replace the baseboards," she said.