How Cities are Making Room for Pets
It wasn’t so long ago that pet owners with their animals in tow were shunned from retail spaces, city parks and sidewalks. But change is afoot as communities in the U.S. increasingly make the commitment to become more pet friendly.
The pet-friendly movement is an outgrowth of the humanization of pets, which first gained steam in the mid-2000s, according to David Lummis, pet market analyst at Packaged Facts, a market research firm in Rockville, Md.
“Millennials have come of age during the ‘pets-as-family’ trend, so this is a natural move [by businesses] to accommodate a need they are more likely to expect to see met,” Lummis said.
Several large pet companies are at the forefront of the pet-friendly movement.
In 2017, pet food and veterinary care company Mars Petcare launched its pet-friendly initiative Better Cities for Pets (BCFP), which recently awarded $100,000 in community grants to burgs for pet-friendly projects.
Locally, Mars created Pets Welcome in its corporate hometown, Franklin, Tenn., where 90 businesses pledged to welcome pets into their stores or onto their patios. The company also produced the “Playbook for Pet-Friendly Cities,” a free, downloadable how-to guide for communities wanting to become more pet friendly.
“It’s not always easy to welcome pets everywhere we’d like to, so we’re setting out to change that,” said Angel May, corporate citizenship lead at Mars Petcare. “Our goal with BCFP is to take on this role and help communities become more pet friendly.”
One factor that appears repeatedly in surveys designed to gauge pet friendliness is the availability of open space for pets and people to enjoy together, and dog parks are one example of the types of spaces that pet owners want to see in their communities.
For the past eight years, PetSafe, a brand of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Radio Systems Corp., has worked to create dog parks through its Bark for Your Park program. Since its inception, the program has donated more than $1 million, giving bloom to more than 70 off-leash dog parks.
“We wanted to create a program that would make a lasting impact on communities,” said Celeste Volk, marketing manager at PetSafe.
Bozeman, Mont.-based West Paw is another company that is making an impact in helping its community become more pet friendly. Bozeman is a noted pet-friendly town, with lots of open spaces, including an off-leash dog beach at Bozeman Pond Dog Park.
The company, which has been operating in Bozeman for nearly 20 years, has contributed mightily to the city’s pet-friendly vibe through its four large donations for “places to play,” including a $50,000 gift to the Story Mill Community Park’s West Paw Dog Park.
“People continue to move here with their dogs,” said Spencer Williams, owner and CEO of West Paw. “People come here because of the access to the outdoors, and bringing their dogs with them is a must, and the population growth in Bozeman is continuing to drive the pet-friendly trend. Because of this, pet stores and anything dog related continue to do well in Bozeman.”
More and more, U.S. communities are opening their doors and hitting the sidewalks to welcome pets and their owners to businesses, parks and pet-centric events.
Of the 100 biggest cities in the U.S., Scottsdale, Ariz., was named WalletHub’s Most Pet-Friendly City in 2017.
Scottsdale finished first in pet-friendly restaurants and scored high in outdoor environments and health and wellness opportunities, according to the personal finance website.
“In 2016, Scottsdale was No. 5, so we’ve worked our way up the ranks,” said Stephanie Pressler, director of community affairs at Experience Scottsdale.
“Scottsdale is a very active community with lots of outdoor adventure opportunities, and because people are out and about with their pets so much, over the years, more and more businesses have become pet friendly,” Pressler added.
Another factor fueling the pet-friendly trend in Scottsdale, said Pressler, is that “residents and visitors tend to be more affluent and have discretionary income to spend on their pets at pet-related and pet-friendly businesses.”
Scottsdale’s pet friendliness runs the gamut, from an annual Chihuahua beauty pageant to a yellow Lab greeter at a local hotel to the Southwest’s largest mall, which is also pet friendly.
“It’s a boon to local tourism and the hospitality industry to have so many pet-friendly resorts, restaurants and businesses,” Pressler said.
Local brick-and-mortar pet retailers and non-pet businesses are benefiting from Scottsdale’s pet-friendly aura.
Krystina Moran, founder of Funny Bone Pet Photography, describes her business as a “seasonally thriving pet photography business” and admits that if not for Scottsdale and its pet-friendly allure, her business might fail in less pet-friendly communities.
In fact, for a time, she lived in Denver, where her pet photography business struggled.
“Even with practically every person having a dog in Denver, I did not get that much business,” she said, but added that she didn’t advertise her business a lot.
Becci Scott, owner of Fetching Dog, a full-service brick-and-mortar grooming salon that also sells food, treats and supplies, is another Scottsdale beneficiary.
She says Scottsdale’s pet friendliness is “definitely an asset” to her business.
“We rely on being in a progressive area where pets are part of the family and their overall health is a high priority,” she said.
Both Moran and Scott indicated that social media as well as couples that forgo children or at least wait and opt for a pet instead are key in the pet-friendly push.
“Millennials, in general, are having children at a later age compared to their parents, so millennials see their pets as an extension of themselves,” said Marcus Wolf, category manager of containment at PetSafe. “Being pet friendly will help businesses offer a good experience by engaging with the local customers and their pets.”
Social media offers businesses the opportunity to connect with pet owners and let them know their business is pet friendly.
“Businesses and people have a huge platform to share what they do day-to-day [through] Facebook, Instagram, blogs, etc.,” Moran said.
Moran also noted that entrepreneurs have picked up on cultural and societal hints, resulting in “clothing companies, boutiques, photography businesses and salons that have dogs or animals as the foundation of their brand.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau and figures from the 2010 census, more people than ever—nearly 81 percent—reside in cities.
“We feel that more than ever, it’s time for cities to adapt with these changes by increasing opportunities for people and pets to live, work and play together in the places they call home,” May said.
Of course, barriers present opportunities.
When Chelsea Brownridge relocated to New York from North Carolina with her dog, she found the city was light on open spaces and had a large dog population. To her surprise, plenty of places in the city were not welcoming to New York’s canine dwellers.
In an effort to encourage local businesses to become more pet friendly, Brownridge and Todd Schechter co-founded Dog Parker, now known as DogSpot, which partners with businesses that want to be more dog friendly by placing smart doghouses outside of their establishments.
“DogSpot has grown out of and in tandem with the newly common expectation of dog friendliness,” said Rebecca Eyre, director of communications at DogSpot in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“For many urban dog owners, it is a daily struggle to leave your dog home alone all day, only to return when your dog is restless from inactivity but you’re exhausted from your day’s activities,” she said.
DogSpot’s climate-controlled smart doghouses can be located, reserved, accessed and monitored by a built-in pet cam through a smartphone app.
After positive reviews from businesses and pet owners from a 50-location two-year trial run in Brooklyn, the service is rolling out nationally, Eyre said.
“We have received letters of invitation from 25 mayors, and are working with dozens of retailers and developers to bring DogSpot to the most dog-dense markets,” Eyre said. “With the hyper-urbanization of many cities across the country and the sheer volume of dogs living in cities, it’s important that businesses and dog owners finds ways to coexist.”