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Access Control from the Perspective of a Former Dog Walker

In a new multifamily housing insights series, Ivana Gatica shares her experiences living in multifamily housing, observations of access control impacts, and insights in the voice of someone living it.

There is one profession I can think of that is incredibly familiar with the intricacies of access control. People in this profession spend their days juggling keys, entering buildings, remembering access codes. Door attendants are their best friends, but their lives would be unquestionably easier if they just had one universal key for everything. Do you know who I’m talking about? I’ll give you a hint: leashes and treats are their most important work tools.

Yep, you guessed it — dog walkers.

I first became aware of all the different technologies relating to access control when I worked as a dog walker during my junior year of college. Of course, at the time, I didn’t realize that access control was such a big part of the job. When I was not in class or doing homework, I spent my time going in and out of some of the most luxurious high-rise apartment buildings in Chicago. I juggled dozens of keys, fobs, and door codes.

I started walking dogs through Rover, an on-demand dog walking, and dog sitting app. At first, I found it strange that dog owners using the app were okay with total strangers entering their homes. Looking back on it, though, I realize that access control plays a huge part in helping dog walkers and owners feel safe.

I often encountered a couple of scenarios during my time as a dog walker that made me increasingly aware of access control.

1. The Sticky Key

This was perhaps the most stressful situation you could encounter as a dog walker. The owner leaves you the keys in a lockbox strapped to the gate of their apartment building. You push in the code, get the key, and then find yourself wrestling to get the key to turn and unlock the front door. You pull the key out and push in again, turn it halfway, and suddenly it’s stuck in the lock. You’re panicking. You pray for a neighbor to come out the front door to avoid texting the owners and shamefully admit you’re having trouble with their lock. But after five minutes of an epic confrontation with the lock, you finally get the door to open. The door to the actual unit unlocks effortlessly. You spend the rest of the walk worried about how you’re going to unlock the door again when you return.

2. The Hovering Doorman

This scenario usually happens in mid to high-rise buildings when the dog owner doesn’t have a second set of keys to leave you. The result is having to ask the doorman for the spare key or to let you in the unit themselves. There were times I had to wait almost fifteen minutes for the doorman to go to the leasing office, fetch the spare key, and let me into the apartment. When they have to repeat that same process after the walk, a thirty-minute walk can easily turn into an hour walk. This is a nuisance for both you and the doorman.

3. The Jack-of-All-Trades Fob

One particular building comes to mind for this scenario. A newly constructed high-rise building in Streeterville had such a high-tech fob system that it made it extremely inefficient to go up and down the elevators. To access the elevators, you had to scan the fob on a touch screen and quickly select your floor (out of over forty floors), or else it returned you to the home screen where you had to repeat the whole process. If you pressed your floor number in time, a letter would appear on the screen indicating which elevator you should use. This system caused such a back up in elevators that you could spend up to fifteen minutes waiting for your elevator during the five-o’clock rush hour when residents returned from work. I remember seeing some residents scan their fob several times because they accidentally picked the wrong floor. Others would forget what elevator they were supposed to use. The most amusing part was that to enter the actual unit, the door had a simple lock and key system.

Unfortunately, for dog walkers, there will never be one universal key for every building. During my time as a dog walker, I noticed that apartment buildings with fewer units often opt for a more traditional lock and key system while mid to high-rise buildings use more advanced lock technology. However, I’ve also learned that just because an access system is high-tech doesn’t mean it’s necessarily convenient. Sometimes, when not dealing with the Sticky Key scenario, a simple lock and key is the most efficient access. Of course, the level of security often depends on the type of building you’re dealing with.

If you’re interested in access control and also have a dog walker, ask them what they think about your building’s access technology. You might be surprised to learn that they have some meaningful insights.

Ivana Gatica graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a degree in Fine Arts and Writing. For the past year, she has been working as a copywriter in the marketing and fintech spaces helping businesses find their unique voice. She also likes to take on freelance writing opportunities in her free time and loves to write fiction and poetry.