2014’s Best and Worst Cities for Pet Lovers
Once upon a time, pets were — well, just pets. Dogs amused or protected us. Fish kept us visually stimulated — for a few minutes. Reptiles made creepy but fascinating gifts. These days, these creatures are practically family, only furrier or slimier. In fact, a record 68 percent, or 82.5 million, of American households owned a pet in 2012, according to the “2013-2014 National Pet Owners Survey” released by the American Pet Products Association, or APPA. Dogs and cats retain the title for most popular, at 46.7 and 37.3 percent ownership, respectively.
And with greater pet ownership of course comes greater financial responsibility. A lengthy list of expenses that can add up to about $2,000 annually — from licenses and treats to grooming and medical care — accompanies the adoption of an animal. Health insurance alone can cost pet owners beaucoup bucks every year. The North American Pet Health Insurance Association estimated that combined annual premiums totaled between $475 and $500 million for more than 1 million animals by the end of 2012.
With aspiring pet parents and pet lovers in mind, WalletHub ranked the 100 largest cities in the United States based on their creature-friendliness. We used 14 essential metrics to study different areas, including ownership and maintenance costs, health care and outdoor spaces in each city. By preparing this information, current and future animal owners can enjoy the company of their pets without breaking the bank.
Health Care & Wellness Rank
|2||Las Vegas, NV||19||17||6|
|8||St. Louis, MO||13||21||25|
|T-19||Long Beach, CA||87||32||3|
|24||St. Petersburg, FL||53||41||13|
|29||Boise City, ID||55||47||11|
|32||San Diego, CA||70||39||14|
|33||St. Paul, MN||64||35||37|
|37||Gilbert Town, AZ||80||8||67|
|38||Kansas City, MO||6||43||82|
|39||New Orleans, LA||24||51||54|
|43||Colorado Springs, CO||63||54||32|
|47||North Las Vegas, NV||36||30||87|
|49||San Francisco, CA||100||60||1|
|50||Santa Ana, CA||74||28||65|
|52||Chula Vista, CA||74||44||46|
|57||Baton Rouge, LA||42||63||52|
|58||Oklahoma City, OK||7||62||84|
|61||Jersey City, NJ||99||48||28|
|T-62||San Jose, CA||92||64||23|
|64||Fort Wayne, IN||1||86||83|
|66||Fort Worth, TX||52||57||73|
|69||Virginia Beach, VA||38||37||94|
|T-83||Los Angeles, CA||87||73||44|
|T-83||San Antonio, TX||26||69||92|
|87||San Bernardino, CA||91||69||49|
|90||El Paso, TX||29||96||67|
|98||Corpus Christi, TX||50||95||96|
|99||New York, NY||97||100||30|
For the right reasons, pet ownership can be a personally fulfilling endeavor. But it also comes with its own set of challenges, which pet parents may or may not be able to anticipate. We asked a panel of experts to weigh in on certain issues and offer their advice to aspiring pet owners on caring for their animals. Click on the experts’ profiles to read their bios and responses to the following questions:
- Do you believe it is worth it to insure a pet?
- What measures can local authorities take in order to make their cities more pet-friendly?
Growing up in the rural south, the thought of paying thousands of dollars in veterinary bills was unimaginable. Perhaps if the animal had a significant market value, but certainly not for a family pet. The level of care provided to family pets was fairly basic and the treatments were not that expensive. If it was going to be a significant expense, then the pet would be euthanized at essentially no cost.
Nowadays, it is common for veterinarians to offer more sophisticated treatments and expensive procedures. If you personally feel committed to potentially paying a very large bill, then it could make sense to purchase the insurance coverage. If you choose to purchase, I recommend the same approach you would take for purchasing other insurance products. Do your research and shop around for multiple quotes. Check the insurer’s financial rating (AM Best website) and contact your state Department of Insurance to see if they have had complaints. Once you have selected the insurer, choose the highest deductible you can realistically afford so that you can lower your premium. Obtain insurance for the larger, catastrophic losses and not necessarily for the smaller, routine events.
Making a town pet-friendly is increasingly a way that cities can differentiate themselves on important quality-of-life indicators that so many people care about. In addition, it can prove a valuable boost to the tourist trade, as more Americans travel with their pets — especially their dogs.
What can local officials do?
They can, most importantly, signal that they want to create a town that’s pet friendly. They can create — and maintain — safe and attractive dog parks, provide pet waste collection bags and receptacles for the bags, make pet licensing easy (including creating online license processes), they can help support the local humane society (and encourage citizens to do so, too), they can pay careful attention to pet regulations (including breed-specific standards), they can provide a safe and humane animal control operation, they can work with merchants and hotels to encourage pet-friendly activities (from water bowls in front of stores to publicizing hotels that are pet friendly), and incorporate pet-friendly activities into zoning decisions (including provisions for outdoor cafes).
This is potentially more than just a quality of life issue for residents — and their pets. It can also be a real branding opportunity for communities seeking to set themselves apart from hungry competitors.
There are a wide variety of city-specific strategies that ensure urban areas are pet-friendly. One strategy is to make parks dog-friendly. A well-known approach is to create dog parks, but a cheaper strategy is to provide devices with plastic bags to pick up dog poop. These devices help avoid conflicts between dog-owners and neighbors frustrated with an overabundance of uncleaned waste.
Pet-focused legislation and city health regulation also make a city pet-friendly. Leash laws for dogs are enacted at the state-level, but cities often add more restrictive rules. By forgoing excessive restrictions on having dogs off leash, cities can attract responsible dog owners and well-trained dogs. City health regulators can make dog-friendly rulings that make it easy for restaurants with outdoor seating to accommodate pets. Restaurants often respond to such rulings by catering to dog-loving customers.
Finally, cities can incorporate pets into their disaster resilience plans. After Hurricane Katrina, pets were often excluded from evacuations, leaving many to fend for themselves or to depend on kind neighbors to feed them. Disasters are traumatic for families. Worrying about a pet at the same time makes things even more emotionally difficult. A city can help ease those worries by ensuring that disaster plans consider furry friends.
The short answer about whether pet insurance is worthwhile is, "It depends." Here's a bit more detail.
In a sense it depends on what type of pet person you are. Attitudes towards spending on pets have changed dramatically in the past several decades and in different parts of the country. Twenty years ago if your dog had cancer you were likely to provide very little treatment and let nature run its course. Now, however, some people are willing to spend $5,000 or $10,000 or more to perform surgeries and chemo/radiation therapies to extend the dog's life even if only for a short while. Whether pet insurance is valuable to you really depends on whether you are someone who "believes" that kind of money should be spent on a pet.
So if you are generally risk averse and you would otherwise be willing to spend several thousand dollars or more on medical procedures for your pet, then I would say that purchasing pet insurance is worthwhile. In that case, as with other types of insurance, the insurance mechanism will allow you to become a part of a larger insurance pool whereby the uncertainty associated with having to potentially pay unpredictable amounts of vet expenses that could be large enough to negatively affect your own cash flow or net worth can be swapped with a much more certain (and lower) amount of money that is the insurance premium. As with many other types of insurance, pet insurance becomes a relatively inexpensive source of capital, in this case for those pet owners who would have been willing to spend several thousand dollars on vet procedures. On the other hand, if you are generally unwilling to put your pet through these types’ treatments and procedures, you probably don't really need the insurance capital in the first place.
A very important point to raise here (and one that should also be kept in mind when talking about any other type of insurance) is that the insurance mechanism works extremely well to fund losses that are both very unpredictable and also potentially severe when they do occur. So whether you are buying pet insurance or health insurance, the insurance is intended to apply to these unpredictable and potentially large events. For the relatively small expenses (such as regular vet check-ups) that occur regularly and therefore are somewhat predictable, you're better off budgeting and saving for these things yourself, taking a higher deductible and saving premium dollars.
We are often tempted to think about insuring the things we love and care most about. Yet insurance is not a way to protect the things we care about. No amount of insurance will prevent us from losing the pets we love and suffering that heartache. Insurance works best when we remember to think of it as a financial protection. Insurance protects us by replacing financial value that we lose when bad things happen. The insurance on your house is valuable not because it protects you from the heartache of losing your family photos, but because it replaces the financial value you had in the house.
So let’s think about pet insurance. Consider first pet life insurance policies that pay out if your pet dies. Unless your pet is part of your livelihood, you are likely making a mistake in buying pet life insurance. There is no financial value being protected by the insurance. There are also policies potentially available to cover the cost of veterinarian bills for a pet. That type of insurance has the potential to provide financial value, much in the same way that health insurance does. I would, however, caution people to look closely at the premiums and potential payouts. Veterinarian bills, while potentially painful, are generally relatively modest, especially when compared to health-care costs for people. Research often shows that insurance for modest-sized financial losses can be quite expensive relative to the value it provides.
To evaluate whether or not insurance is a good idea for a pet requires knowing a few things. First, you have to consider how much the insurance costs. Next, you need to know what benefits the insurance provides. And finally, just as is the case with people, you have to consider the general health of the subject you're insuring. If you own a pet that is prone to health problems, it might make sense to insure them versus a pet that is expected to be generally healthy.
Having said that, I am a pet owner myself. I have three dogs, and, I have had several other dogs in the past. The insurance products I have seen never appeared to me to be a good value based on their cost versus the benefits provided. I personally have never insured a pet for anything.
WalletHub compared the creature-friendliness of the 100 largest U.S. cities using 14 essential metrics such as veterinary care costs, the number of pet-friendly restaurants per capita and the number of dog parks per capita in each city. By preparing this information, animal lovers can enjoy their pets without racking up costly expenses.
For this particular study, we chose each city according to the size of its population. Population, in this case, does not account for residents in the surrounding metropolitan areas. The metrics and corresponding weights we used are shown below. The three categories under which the metrics are listed were used for organizational purposes only and did not factor in to our overall rankings.
- Veterinary Care Costs: 1
- Minimum Pet Care Provider Rate per Visit: 0.5
- Dog Insurance Premium: 1
Health Care & Wellness
- Number of Veterinarians per Capita: 1
- Number of Pet Caretakers per Capita: 1
- Number of Pet Businesses per Capita: 1
- Pet Friendly Restaurants per Capita: 1
- Percent of Pet Friendly Hotels: 0.25
- Pet Meet-up Groups: 1
- Average Home Square Feet: 1
- Weather Conditions - Cities with the Best & Worst Weather Ranking: 1
- Dog Parks per Capita: 1
- Walk Score®: 1
- Pet Friendly Trails: 1
Sources: Data used to create these rankings is courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Yelp.com, Zillow, WalkScore.com, Tripadvisor, Petsbest, the Council for Community and Economic Research, Sittercity, BringFido, the Trust for Public Land, Meetup and WalletHub research.