2015’s Best and Worst Cities for Pet Lovers

by Richie Bernardo

2014-Best-and-Worst-Cities-for-Pet-Lovers-BadgesFor most of us, pets are part of the family — only furrier or slimier than the relatives we’re used to. This year, more of our animal companions — especially dogs and cats — will probably make it into the holiday greeting card. A record 65 percent, or 79.7 million, American households now own a pet, according to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Association.

But adding a pet to the family roster can strike a hard blow to the wallet. A litany of expenses — including licenses, grooming and medical care — can cost between $235 to nearly $2,000 annually, depending on the type of animal you adopt, which is generally a cheaper option than buying a pet. Health insurance alone can cost more than $200 a year for a dog, and it may not even be worth it.

With current and aspiring pet parents in mind, WalletHub compared the creature-friendliness of the 100 largest U.S. cities across 16 key metrics. Our data set ranges from the minimum pet-care provider rate per visit to the number of pet businesses per capita. The complete ranking, as well as expert commentary and a detailed methodology, can be found below.

Main Findings

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Overall Rank

City

“Budget” Rank

“Health Care & Wellness” Rank

“Outdoor Environment & Amusement” Rank

1 Cincinnati, OH 10 8 12
2 St. Louis, MO 9 14 20
3 Colorado Springs, CO 36 6 14
4 Tampa, FL 55 12 1
5 Richmond, VA 23 5 74
6 Tulsa, OK 4 25 48
7 Las Vegas, NV 42 10 18
8 Reno, NV 60 2 46
9 Boise, ID 63 7 11
10 Madison, WI 27 28 3
11 Scottsdale, AZ 92 1 36
12 Orlando, FL 67 4 39
13 Lexington, KY 14 23 57
14 Tucson, AZ 59 15 26
15 Denver, CO 65 9 30
16 Austin, TX 44 3 75
17 Durham, NC 14 21 67
18 Sacramento, CA 45 27 9
19 Greensboro, NC 1 40 62
20 Raleigh, NC 21 16 84
21 Atlanta, GA 48 13 64
22 Albuquerque, NM 16 42 21
23 Portland, OR 79 20 5
24 Minneapolis, MN 37 29 34
25 Pittsburgh, PA 69 24 8
26 Plano, TX 66 11 59
27 Omaha, NE 8 51 53
28 St. Paul, MN 33 37 25
29 San Diego, CA 82 18 27
30 Gilbert, AZ 70 17 51
31 Toledo, OH 5 77 50
32 Riverside, CA 12 62 18
33 Seattle, WA 91 22 6
34 Glendale, AZ 74 19 36
35 Oakland, CA 57 30 29
36 Lincoln, NE 20 58 22
37 Henderson, NV 37 45 17
38 Columbus, OH 2 74 61
39 Bakersfield, CA 58 46 10
40 Chandler, AZ 75 26 33
41 Aurora, CO 42 41 44
42 Louisville, KY 30 31 82
43 San Jose, CA 27 72 15
44 Fort Wayne, IN 6 65 87
45 St. Petersburg, FL 45 54 16
46 Miami, FL 64 36 41
47 Cleveland, OH 11 67 65
48 Oklahoma City, OK 13 66 71
49 Baton Rouge, LA 40 39 81
50 Kansas City, MO 23 52 69
51 Lubbock, TX 17 43 95
52 Irvine, CA 84 38 31
53 Norfolk, VA 53 73 13
54 San Francisco, CA 100 32 2
55 Phoenix, AZ 48 53 52
56 New Orleans, LA 54 43 63
57 Wichita, KS 7 79 92
58 Nashville, TN 55 33 88
59 Fresno, CA 33 82 31
60 Milwaukee, WI 3 87 70
61 Buffalo, NY 50 48 83
62 Washington, DC 96 35 23
63 Stockton, CA 35 85 24
64 Fort Worth, TX 45 55 78
65 North Las Vegas, NV 37 70 76
66 Houston, TX 50 49 86
67 Long Beach, CA 94 62 3
68 Arlington, TX 27 69 91
69 Fremont, CA 76 56 49
70 Chesapeake, VA 71 50 71
71 Charlotte, NC 31 71 90
72 Virginia Beach, VA 71 34 98
73 Honolulu, HI 79 68 28
74 Anchorage, AK 90 59 42
75 San Antonio, TX 41 61 97
76 Dallas, TX 88 47 68
77 Mesa, AZ 79 64 60
78 Laredo, TX 19 96 77
79 Chula Vista, CA 85 76 40
80 Los Angeles, CA 83 81 38
81 Indianapolis, IN 52 75 93
82 Irving, TX 88 56 79
83 Corpus Christi, TX 25 83 100
84 Baltimore, MD 32 97 47
85 Anaheim, CA 68 86 55
86 Winston-Salem, NC 25 89 94
87 San Bernardino, CA 61 93 35
88 Garland, TX 71 80 89
89 El Paso, TX 22 98 80
90 Hialeah, FL 61 94 54
91 Philadelphia, PA 78 90 45
92 Jacksonville, FL 87 60 96
93 Boston, MA 86 84 56
94 Chicago, IL 93 78 65
95 Jersey City, NJ 95 92 7
96 Memphis, TN 77 88 99
97 Detroit, MI 17 100 73
98 Santa Ana, CA 96 95 58
99 New York, NY 98 99 43
100 Newark, NJ 99 91 85

Best-and-Worst-Cities-for-Pet-Lovers-Artwork

Ask the Experts

For the right reasons, pet ownership can be a personally fulfilling endeavor. But it also can bring unforeseen challenges. We asked a panel of experts to weigh in on certain issues and offer advice to aspiring pet owners. Click on the experts’ profiles to read their bios and responses to the following key questions:

  1. What tips do you have for individuals and families looking to own pets without breaking the bank?
  2. What are the pros and cons of purchasing pet insurance? Do you recommend it?
  3. What measures can local authorities take in order to make their cities more pet-friendly?
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  • Robert C. Speth Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Nova Southeastern University, College of Pharmacy
  • Sherry F. Colb Professor of Law & Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell Law School
  • Sahar Akhtar Assistant Professor of Political Philosophy, Bioethics and Philosophy of Economics at University of Virginia, Corcoran Department of Philosophy
  • Joan Schaffner Associate Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School
  • Allen M. Schoen Veterinarian and Co-Author of "The Compassionate Equestrian”
  • Elisabeth Giedt Director of Continuing Education, Extension and Community Engagement in the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University
  • Leticia Fanucchi Doctoral Candidate and Clinical Instructor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University
  • Karen Leslie Executive Director of The Pet Fund
  • Kristi Flynn Assistant Professor of General Practice at University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Cory Smith Director of Pet Protection and Policy at The Humane Society of the United States
  • Ruth Melanie Colwill Professor in the Department of Cognitive, Linguistic & Psychological Sciences at Brown University
  • Jeanette O'Quin Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at The Ohio State University, College of Veterinary Medicine

Robert C. Speth

Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Nova Southeastern University, College of Pharmacy
Robert C. Speth
What tips do you have for individuals and families looking to own pets without breaking the bank?

Be extremely careful about getting a supposed bargain pet at a shelter. I know of way too many instances of people adopting dogs from shelters only to discover severe medical disorders which generated huge veterinary bills within weeks of the adoption. The public should know that unscrupulous self-proclaimed rescue organizations are importing dogs from foreign countries to make it appear that there are surplus animals needing to be adopted. I believe this is part of the animal rights movement's strategy to put responsible dog breeders out of business as a stepping stone towards attaining their ultimate goal of total animal liberation: in which case pets would no longer be “slaves” of their owners.

In 2007 more than 300,000 dogs were imported into the U.S from off-shore/foreign sources, eliciting a public health threat notice from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of the U.S. Government. My recommendation is to find a responsible private in-home breeder or go to a pet store that deals with responsible commercial breeders and can provide assurances or a warrantee for their customers that the animals they are selling are healthy and have been well cared for.

What are the pros and cons of purchasing pet insurance? Do you recommend it?

The pros are that pets can be put into a wellness program that can improve their health and quality of life. If the pet has a catastrophic illness, much of the cost of treatment will be borne by the pet insurance. Also, it might be good to check your liability insurance to make sure that if your animal hurts someone that any damages will be covered. The cons are that it can be expensive and is a continuing expense. If the pet is healthy and the owner has limited resources for pet health care, it might be less expensive in the long run to not have pet insurance.

What measures can local authorities take in order to make their cities more pet-friendly?

Establish regulations for the operations of animal shelters and rescue groups to make sure they are not importing animals to fill their cages and selling sick or dangerous animals. Scrutinize the financial records of animal shelters and rescue groups that sell animals to make sure they are not a profit generating organization or are providing exorbitant salaries or lavish spending accounts for their directors and employees and schedule frequent inspections of all enterprises that sell animals as pets.

Additionally, local authorities can enact laws to promote responsible pet ownership and keep animals from becoming a public nuisance. Foster relationships with kennel clubs that can provide animal training opportunities for dogs to improve their behavior. To paraphrase Robert Frost: Good pets make good neighbors.

Sherry F. Colb

Professor of Law & Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell Law School
Sherry F. Colb
What tips do you have for individuals and families looking to own pets without breaking the bank?

My tip for people looking to bring a companion animal into their lives without breaking the bank is, first, to visit a local shelter. Many assume that their best bet is to purchase a companion animal from a breeder. The reality, however, is that pure-bred animals often have genetic problems that will show up only later in life, when they can break the hearts of the humans who bonded with the animals (along with breaking the bank). A dog from a shelter is typically a wonderful dog. Pit bull mixes (and even pure pit bulls), though stigmatized, for example, are sweet and gentle animals when they are not forced to fight in a ring. They used to be called “nanny dogs” in the days before fighting, because they were so good at keeping small children safe from harm and so gentle. Shelters may charge an adoption fee, but it is generally nowhere near what one pays a breeder. And by adopting from a shelter, you support a reduction in unwanted animals, and your animal will know that you gave him or her a forever home after others (for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with the animal’s personality or behavior) failed to do that. I have three rescued dogs myself, and they are beautiful, loving, and grateful every day.

What measures can local authorities take in order to make their cities more pet-friendly?

Local authorities could make a locale more pet friendly by offering free spaying and neutering services (which are much cheaper than what many locales ultimately do, which is euthanize the many offspring of the animals who were never spayed or neutered), by providing fenced-in areas in parks for dogs to play happily without frightening people who prefer to avoid dogs, and by providing funds to shelters that allow the shelters to go out into the community with adoptable cats and dogs, so people can see how sweet, adorable, and friendly they are without having to visit a shelter (which can sometimes deter people from adopting).

Sahar Akhtar

Assistant Professor of Political Philosophy, Bioethics and Philosophy of Economics at University of Virginia, Corcoran Department of Philosophy
Sahar Akhtar
What tips do you have for individuals and families looking to own pets without breaking the bank?

First off, the best thing to do is "shop" around at your local shelters. A lot of people purchase dogs especially, but also cats, from breeders or pet stores (which get them from breeders) and that gets expensive. It's also bad for the dogs and cats. Breeding facilities are notoriously cramped, with multiple animals packed into tight cages (often in windowless places), left in poor to terrible conditions, and the mothers are induced to produce continuous litters, which puts a substantial strain on their bodies.

Just think about it: if you buy your dog or cat from the breeder, his or her mother was typically forced to live in terrible circumstances. You wouldn't want that for your dog or cat that you love, so why would you want that for his/her mother? But if you purchase from a breeder, you’re contributing to that situation for these pets’ mothers.

And with a big over-population of cats and dogs, there’s no need to buy one when you can adopt one, at little to no costs, from your local shelter. You’ll be saving money, and saving a life. Plus, when you adopt a pet, you’ll often save money on their vaccinations and getting them spayed or neutered.

What are the pros and cons of purchasing pet insurance? Do you recommend it?

Pet insurance can be a little expensive, especially as our pets age because the premiums typically rise according to their ages, but it’s not nearly as pricey as health insurance is for people. Pet insurance is also, in the end, a great deal for you and your pet. You’ll know that if there’s an illness or emergency, most of the bills will be covered. And let’s face it, our pets always seem to get in trouble or eat something stupid on the weekends when the regular vets are closed, requiring a trip to the emergency vet, which can double or triple the costs of treatment. If you have insurance, you won’t be forced to consider risking your pet’s health to save costs by waiting until Monday or Tuesday to go to your regular vet. And in general, pet insurance just gives you the peace of mind and ease of planning that comes with any insurance.

What measures can local authorities take in order to make their cities more pet-friendly?

Greenspaces and parks are great for families of dogs. And so are “backyard” and leash laws that promote dogs’ comfort and safety, like laws that require that dogs have shelter from extreme temperatures and weather, and also food and water, if they’re going to be left outside in the yard for periods of time.

Something that would be great for both the community and families of pets is low-cost or subsidized vaccinations and spay/neutering, and helping shelters pay for “trap, neuter, and return” practices with strays. The more cities can control stray populations and keep strays disease-free, the safer it is for pets and children who may come into contact with them (not to mention, the better the lives of those strays). It’s also important that local governments shore up their monitoring of vets and shelters to be certain they’re following humane practices and putting the safety of pets first.

Joan Schaffner

Associate Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School
Joan Schaffner
What tips do you have for individuals and families looking to own pets without breaking the bank?

It is important to understand that owning a pet/companion animal is a long-term personal, emotional, and financial commitment. However, you need not “break the bank” while still properly caring for your companion. First and foremost, adopt your companion from a shelter or reputable rescue organization. Not only is the adoption fee much less than the price to purchase an animal from a pet store or breeder but you are providing a loving home for a homeless animal who will otherwise spend their days in a cage and often suffer an untimely death. Even if you are interested in a pure-bred animal, there are rescue groups that focus on breeds from which you can adopt. Of course, if you must have a pure-bred puppy and cannot find one otherwise, always purchase your puppy from a reputable breeder, go to the breeding facility, meet the mother and, if possible, father of the puppy, and be sure that your puppy and his/her parents received good care before you purchase. If you find that the breeder is not caring for the animals properly, report them to the local animal control.

Once you have your companion you will need to care for them, with expenses going to food, vet visits, medical insurance, medications, training, grooming, toys, treats, dental cleanings, and boarding or sitter arrangements for when you go on vacation and cannot bring them along. Of course, the expense will depend on the type of companion you have. Nevertheless, often one can get good deals on food, toys, and treats on-line. Perhaps you have a neighbor or family member who can pet sit while you are away, just be sure they are responsible and will properly care for your companion. The largest expense will involve veterinary services, especially as your companion ages, but pet insurance may help reduce such expenses.

What are the pros and cons of purchasing pet insurance? Do you recommend it?

Pet insurance is like any other insurance policy - you obtain the policy generally to cover the unexpected large expense that you otherwise could not afford. If your animal remains healthy for their entire life, it may not seem like the policy was worth the expense. However, if your companion becomes seriously ill or injured, the policy will pay for itself many times over. One thing to keep in mind is that generally you pay your veterinarian and then submit your bill to the insurance company for reimbursement. Also, you will want to read carefully what expenses the insurance policy covers and what is exempted, deductibles, co-pays, annual limits, etc. There are several pet insurance companies so spend a little time to compare and obtain the policy that is right for you. Of course, if you have the resources to pay for the potential large vet expense, or you have several companions and do not want to maintain several policies, or you adopt an animal with a pre-existing condition that may not be covered, you may not wish to obtain pet insurance. There is no right answer but rather depends on the individual circumstance.

What measures can local authorities take in order to make their cities more pet-friendly?

There are a variety of ways that state and local jurisdictions can make their cities pet-friendly. First, state and local authorities should properly protect pets from abuse and neglect. The Animal Legal Defense Fund ranks states according to their animal protection laws.

Second, state and local authorities should ensure that animal control laws serve the function of public safety effectively and fairly. Thus, all laws should be breed-neutral so as not to unfairly discriminate against a dog just because of what he or she looks like. Similarly, jurisdictions should respect the difference between cats and dogs and allow cats to roam off-leash while also allowing citizens to care for and feed community/feral cats and supporting a trap-neuter-return program to help reduce their numbers humanely.

Third, jurisdictions should provide for low-cost spay/neuter services for owners unable to afford such services and to prevent the birth of unwanted animals that may then end up in the government shelter.

Fourth, localities may support housing options for owners with companion animals by providing a statutory right to home owners to have a pet in a common interest development or mobile home park. The jurisdiction could also provide incentives to those who lease to allow pets in their rental units. Additionally, jurisdictions should not set arbitrary limits on the number of pets one may own but rather enact ordinances that directly ensure animals are cared for properly and are not a nuisance.

Fifth, dogs need space to exercise, and thus local authorities should provide for adequate dog parks and allow dogs on the state beach, park, and trails.

Sixth, the jurisdiction should allow pets, especially dogs, reasonable access to restaurants and other establishments.

Finally, the state should expressly recognize pet trusts so that owners may provide proper care for their companion animal after the owner has passed.

Allen M. Schoen

Veterinarian and Co-Author of "The Compassionate Equestrian”
Allen M. Schoen
What tips do you have for individuals and families looking to own pets without breaking the bank?

One of the kindest things families or individuals looking for a feline or canine companion is to go to a reputable animal shelter, rescue shelter and save one that desperately needs a home. Many of the rescue animals may have received vaccinations, positive humane training and health examinations through the shelter, saving one, on initial expenses, as well as giving love to animals that are yearning for loving companionship. Rescued animals also can sometimes be healthier versus animals purchased from puppy mills with the potential for inherited physical conditions due to being overbred.

The most economical approach is prevention such as a humane positive training program, healthy, balanced diets and well balanced exercise programs, not that unlike us.

In addition, preventive care such as good quality food can prevent further health issues from poorer quality pet foods.

What are the pros and cons of purchasing pet insurance? Do you recommend it?

The benefits of health insurance include the prevention of unexpected expenses due to emergencies such an accident or being hit by a car or cancer. A quality pet health insurance can cover part of those unexpected emergencies. The precautions are sometimes in the details. Read the policies carefully to be clear on what they cover and what they do not.

Evaluate the risk/benefit ratio of each particular policy.

Whether you purchase a health insurance plan depends on your particular situation and what the chances of unexpected accidents are, the health of your dog overall, what your feed them and how you treat them. Read the policies carefully. I know a number of clients and friends who were quite grateful that they purchased insurance when something unexpected happened.

What measures can local authorities take in order to make their cities more pet-friendly?

Local authorities can create dog parks that allow people to have time with their dogs playing freely. They can have places where dog walking is safe and pleasurable. Research continues to be published on the health benefits of parks and green spaces in cities for people, showing that people experience less stress and are happier when they live on streets with more trees and near green spaces. It is not unreasonable to assume that dogs are as well and that dog people are as well. Creating pet friendly safe parks is truly one of the best things one can do. Also, creating positive, compassionate signs to encourage respectful care of animal companions.

I would request that local authorities always ask "What is the most compassionate choice for all beings" whenever they make decisions for their city.

I would also invite local authorities to join the Charter for Compassion, as many cities such as Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria have chosen to become Compassionate Cities.

Becoming a compassionate city would create a foundation for having more pet-friendly compassionate cities everywhere.

Elisabeth Giedt

Director of Continuing Education, Extension and Community Engagement in the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University
Elisabeth Giedt
What tips do you have for individuals and families looking to own pets without breaking the bank?

Consider the expenses of pet ownership in advance and evaluate your budget. The cost of pet ownership over their life may far exceed the initial purchase price. Some pets require much smaller expenditures for food, housing and veterinary care than others and are easily accommodated in a family budget. You can read more about how to choose the right pet here.

What are the pros and cons of purchasing pet insurance? Do you recommend it?

There are many types of pet insurance. Cost and coverage benefits will vary depending on your pet’s age, breed, health and pre-existing conditions. Review the costs of coverage against the types items covered: wellness care, accident, illness, as well as cancer and genetic diseases. Become familiar with insurance terms such as copayment and deductibles. Speak with your veterinarian about their experiences with various pet insurance plans and customer service.

What measures can local authorities take in order to make their cities more pet-friendly?

If you are looking for a pet friendly community consider the following:

Does the community have strong animal sheltering programs, both public and private?

Are there great places to walk your dog, where dogs are welcomed? If you like to utilize dog parks, does the community have them?

Will you have access to professional veterinary care for routine health and wellness and referral specialists if needed?

What services are available for pet boarding?

Does the community have pet friendly hotels/motels?

Is pet friendly rental housing available in the community?

Are there pet friendly swimming holes available?

Does the community offer open swim for pets at public and private pools? Many public and private pools offer pet swim day at the close of the season.

If you like to participate in dog activities, are there dog clubs in the area?

If you are interested in dog showing, what competitions are available in the area?

Leticia Fanucchi

Doctoral Candidate and Clinical Instructor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University
Leticia Fanucchi
What tips do you have for individuals and families looking to own pets without breaking the bank?

Pet ownership is costly. Start with the animal species you would like to have, and check what the particular species requirements are, as far as food, environment, type and size of enclosure/housing. Make sure you can afford the pertinent expenses and if not, choose a species that does not require special/imported products. Regardless of species, pets do impose costs, so make sure you can afford them first.

What are the pros and cons of purchasing pet insurance? Do you recommend it?

Overall I do recommend it. It can be very helpful for emergencies (e.g., hit by car, which often times require surgery, and these can be very expensive procedures), and most insurances cover the basics (annual check-up, vaccines, dental procedures). Downside is that not all insurances are well accepted everywhere (if you travel with your pet a lot, for example, some insurances will cover a limited number of veterinarians), and most importantly, you have to pay upfront, then send the paperwork for reimbursement.

What measures can local authorities take in order to make their cities more pet-friendly?

One important measure is to ban Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), which limits the breed, and sometimes size of dogs allowed in condos, residential areas, public places. We have the weight of evidence supporting the hypothesis that BSL does not work on bite prevention. In Europe, specialists and authorities are working hard to ban BSL almost widely, but here in the US it is still a limitation for dog owners (Miami, FL, for example).

Karen Leslie

Executive Director of The Pet Fund
Karen Leslie
What tips do you have for individuals and families looking to own pets without breaking the bank?

The Pet Fund recommends first planning for future medical care. First, having a savings account is critical - even if you only save $10 monthly - so you can be prepared as much as possible for emergencies and needed medical care. All companion animals will require care throughout their lifetimes, and this requires anticipating that you will need at least $200 yearly just for basic medical costs, including vaccinations and basic exams. As costs for veterinary care continue to rise, this is increasingly important. These costs have skyrocketed in the past few years, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down.

In addition to financial planning, we recommend asking treating veterinarians to sign up for a new service called CareCap (you can find this link on the "For Veterinarians" page of our website). Unlike credit or third party financing options, this is a payment plan that vets and pet owners can sign up for, which makes paying for expensive care easier by paying over time. Since credit approval is not required, this service is very easy to use and provides access to needed medical care for those who cannot afford to pay the entire amount of needed treatment at once.

Finally, practicing preventative care is critically important. If your companion animal is not taken for yearly wellness exams and does not have basic dental cleaning performed, you are extremely likely to end up paying much more money for illnesses that are often preventable and/or easier to treat if caught sooner. This is the most difficult concept for pet owners to embrace, since most humans don't use preventative care practices with their own health care needs.

What are the pros and cons of purchasing pet insurance? Do you recommend it?

Pet insurance can be helpful - we have worked with companies providing this service in the past, but we have been disappointed in the delivery of these services in not living up to consumer expectations. For example, there are typically many exclusions for illness which are considered to be "pre-existing" that should not be in that category. In addition, there are caps on the cost of treatment per category which do not reflect realistic costs for treatment of many conditions and injuries. Consumers should pay close attention to the fine print of any pet insurance contract as to what is actually covered and what conditions are excluded, particularly when the monthly fees often exceed $100 or more.

What measures can local authorities take in order to make their cities more pet-friendly?

Pet Friendly cities: We would recommend that all cities look to the San Francisco SPCA as a model of a no-kill shelter that serves a very large urban community in a successful way. The shelter is funded through Maddie's Fund and should be the model replicated around the country as a shelter that is able to serve a large population while providing humane and effective animal adoption and treatment services.

In addition to the importance of having a no-kill shelter, cities need to focus funding on making free and low-cost spay and neuter services available in order to provide access to these critical services for low-income residents. This preventative measure can save cities in the long term by preventing litters that would otherwise burden city shelters and as a consequence, burden communities with overpopulation. Also, shelters should have a payment plan in place for fees and services which are accessible to low-income pet owners.

Also, cities should have in place police officers who are trained by animal control officers in non-lethal treatment of animals. For example, in many cities, a supervising officer will be prepared with "dog-catcher poles" in his or her vehicle, so that officers on the scene can restrain loose animals without having to resort to lethal force. Training all officers in cities to use humane methods of restraining animals is also critical to maintaining a pet-friendly city. In addition, one example of a State program that is helpful in creating a sustainable situation for pet owners is the California Assistance Dog Special Allowance Program.

This is a program that provides income (over and above disability benefits) that enables those with service dogs to be able to afford care. We know of no other similar program in the US, and this program saves California money by keeping people with disabilities independent and able to maintain their service dogs. This program could be replicated nationally and would save all municipalities money by helping those with disabilities live independently without the need for in-patient care and housing.

Finally, having a city-wide disaster preparedness plan in place is also important in creating a pet-friendly city. For example, many areas in California are currently being evacuated due to fires. Some cities have shelters and other designated areas where pets left behind may be cared for until residents are able to claim them.

These practices make a city far more pet-friendly than simply having a dog park available or allowing pets in outdoor cafes. While these are nice to have, it is far more important for cities to focus on keeping animals safe and creating sustainable pet shelter and treatment options.

Kristi Flynn

Assistant Professor of General Practice at University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine
Kristi Flynn
What tips do you have for individuals and families looking to own pets without breaking the bank?

Adopting a pet from a reputable rescue organization can be a great way to save money on a pet. The adoption fee covers the spay or neuter surgery, core vaccinations, deworming and heartworm testing in adult dogs. Depending on the age of the pet or lifestyle, there may be additional vaccinations needed when you take your pet in to have a new pet examination at their veterinarian. This appointment is important because you can insure that your new pet is healthy and discuss preventative treatments that can save money in the future. Bring your pet in for annual veterinary visits to help alert you to actionable issues such as obesity that can adversely affect your pet’s health.

You will eventually have expenses so start an account so you are able to handle those expenses when they come up.

You do not necessarily need to buy the most expensive dog food. There is a lot of misinformation out there and there are many very healthy options that do not have the premium price tag. It is fun to purchase all the paraphernalia - collars, leashes, bowls, beds and toys. However, these are areas in which you don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a happy or healthy pet. It is more important to find a good training class that uses methods recommended by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Starting your dog in training right away helps your pet understand the world they are expected to live in. A reliable recall and understanding of “leave it” can save money by avoiding hazards.

What are the pros and cons of purchasing pet insurance? Do you recommend it?

I have heard people say that you purchase insurance with the hope that you’ll never need it. I think this holds true for pet insurance as well. There are more advanced treatment options available for dogs than ever before and the cost of care is rising as well. If having your pet insured will allow you to afford a major surgery should your pet have an orthopedic issue or eat something they shouldn’t have, then it is worth it. If you can pay for a surgery out of pocket should the need arise or qualify for Care Credit, you may decide against it. I am not currently strongly urging clients to purchase insurance, but I let them know about it. I have several clients who speak highly of their pet insurance carriers.

Pros - allows you to treat an expensive condition rather than possibly having to euthanize for a treatable condition (gastric foreign body, fractured bone, toxicity).

Cons - you are spending money you may not need to spend.

What measures can local authorities take in order to make their cities more pet-friendly?
  • Allow pets in patio areas of bars and restaurants.
  • Develop pet friendly green spaces including some off-leash areas.
  • Pet focused events such as the annual Northeast Minneapolis Dog Parade.
  • A competent Animal Control Agency that provides resources to the community members including education and enforcement that keeps pets and people safe.

Cory Smith

Director of Pet Protection and Policy at The Humane Society of the United States
Cory Smith
What tips do you have for individuals and families looking to own pets without breaking the bank?

Adopt! Adopting your pet from an animal shelter or rescue group is a bargain. For your adoption fee, you typically get a new companion who has been vaccinated, sterilized and sometimes, even microchipped. Your new pet may have also already had some initial health and behavior screening, or even comes with notes from a previous owner. Not to mention, the cost of saving lives is priceless!

The ongoing costs of pet ownership are always less if you take preventative actions against illness and injury. Keeping down unnecessary or emergency veterinary costs is the best way to avoid big bills, so keep cats indoors and keep dogs on a leash when outside of the house. Additionally, sterilizing your pets is a no-brainer for cost savings because otherwise, he or she may unwantedly reproduce or behave.

Spending a little more on high-quality food can also be most cost effective approach to dietary health, because low-quality food contains filler and less nutritional value. This means pets eat more of it. Additionally, high-quality food keeps pets healthier.

Factor in ongoing costs like annual veterinary visits, food, and enrichment items into your family budget. Learn how to trim your pet’s nails and do home grooming. There are plenty of fun DIY toys and treats you can make with your family to save on those types of items as well, like these easy-to-make recipes from The HSUS.

Check out The HSUS resources for folks having trouble affording their pets.

Check out The HSUS resources for folks having trouble affording veterinary care.

What are the pros and cons of purchasing pet insurance? Do you recommend it?

The HSUS does recommend pet health insurance if it is a good fit per pet owner. The key is signing your pet up while they are young and healthy to ensure eligibility. Do not wait for a veterinary emergency because many plans will not approve pre-existing conditions or emergency care-based applications.

What measures can local authorities take in order to make their cities more pet-friendly?

There are many things local authorities can do to make their cities or counties more pet-friendly. I’m going to list a few items and links to where you can get more information.
  • Promote adoption – municipalities spend a lot of money on care and rehoming of homeless animals. Incentivizing and promoting adoption can make for a better community! An easy way to do this is to promote the Shelter Pet Project at www.shelterpetproject.org.
  • Make spay/neuter and veterinary/wellness care accessible for all. There are 23 million pets living in poverty in the U.S. It is critical to reach these under-served households with services, information, and resources to prevent pets from producing unwanted litters, suffering from illness or injury, and keep pets in homes. All of these things can lead to relinquishment of pets, which creates costs for municipalities. Visit www.humanesociety.org/petsforlife for more information.
  • Humanely Manage Community Cats – with 30 to 40 million community (unowned, feral and stray) cats in the U.S., chances are that every city and county is trying to figure out what to do about these cats in their communities. Look no further! The HSUS offers a roadmap resource on this complex issue in our “Managing Community Cats: A Guide for Municipal Leaders” – this book is endorsed by the International City/County Management Association and designed for local officials.
  • Welcome All Pets! Some species are not appropriate for pet keeping, such as exotic animals and reptiles, but we encourage officials to welcome cats, dogs, rabbits and other common pets like gerbils and guinea pigs in their community. Ensure your local animal ordinance is positive and realistic, welcomes pets and incentivizes good pet owner decisions. The HSUS supports reasonable regulations of pets and recommends making expectations and rules very clear to community residents for the best outcomes.
  • Specifically, officials can endorse Pets Are Welcome policies in all rental housing in the community. Housing or landlord related causes are among the top reasons pets are relinquished and no one should have to choose between their home and their pet. Visit The HSUS for more information.
  • Do not regulate dogs by breed – it’s ineffective and discriminatory. No breed of dog is more dangerous than another and dogs should be judged as individuals based on their histories. Breed based laws are on the decline and 19 states have prohibited regulating dogs by breed.

Ruth Melanie Colwill

Professor in the Department of Cognitive, Linguistic & Psychological Sciences at Brown University
Ruth Melanie Colwill
What tips do you have for individuals and families looking to own pets without breaking the bank?

Figure out your monthly disposable income so you can decide what kind of pet you can afford. Cats and dogs should get an annual veterinary exam and blood work (maybe twice a year after they reach senior status) and will need vaccinations (rabies by law and others, depending on location and lifestyle). Bigger dogs cost more to feed and annual dentals can save money down the road. Usually, the costs of pet ownership are fairly predictable early in the pet’s life and spay/neuter is obviously a one-time expense (and may be subsidized or covered if you adopt from a shelter).

Do research before you adopt or purchase a pet. I think there are three important questions to answer. How long does this dog breed, cat, guinea pig, bird, etc. live on average? What behaviors/needs are specific to this kind of pet? What are the typical health problems associated with this type of pet? With this information, you can decide how well this pet would fit with your lifestyle, personality and income. Psychological stress and obesity can cause medical problems. If you know what your pet’s needs are and how to meet them, you can prevent costly problems.

Start saving for the unexpected! I recommend having about $2K in your pet dog’s medical emergency fund. While this might not cover the entire cost of surgery and care for a dog with bloat, it would cushion the blow. It would also fully cover many other once-in-a-lifetime procedures such as a splenectomy. And if your pet gets sick while you are away on vacation or business and has to be hospitalized, you will not be worrying about maxing out credit cards.

What are the pros and cons of purchasing pet insurance? Do you recommend it?

So there are two kinds of insurance for a pet; medical and liability. In both cases, insurance companies are in the business of making money so they factor in probabilities of payouts in the coverage they offer. For medical policies, you need to read the fine print carefully, especially about pre-existing conditions. Will coverage be continued when your policy comes up for renewal? I think the question a potential owner needs to ask is what am I going to do if the treatment my pet needs is really expensive and exceeds my monthly disposable income? If there is no plan B (e.g., use my savings, credit card, care credit, get another job, develop a payment plan with my pet’s veterinarian, get a second mortgage), pet insurance may be a life saver for you and your pet.

I looked into pet medical insurance when my employer started a new benefit offering a discount through VMI. At that time, however, a dog had to be less than 4 years old to be eligible and mine were not. I’ve always gone with the plan B route which has sometimes been a bit stressful.

Liability insurance may be required for some dog breeds in some cities or towns. Dog owners can minimize the potential for dog bites by providing proper socialization, obedience training, and supervision of their pet dogs.

What measures can local authorities take in order to make their cities more pet-friendly?

Great question! Many years ago, I took a weekend summer vacation with my dogs to a seaside resort on the Cape. There was no shade, no public drinking water, and no dogs were allowed on the beaches. I also had an allergic reaction to the overwhelming odor of cat urine in one of the two motels’ designated pet rooms. We never went back.

Local authorities just need to imagine ways to support pets as companions not only for their residents but for tourists and other visitors. Off-leash dog parks are becoming more common but let’s provide separate areas for small and large dogs and equip them with facilities to clean up pet waste, a water faucet, seating, shade, and paddling pools with fountains to improve the experience.

Encourage more hotel and restaurant owners and landlords to accommodate pets with people and work with citizen groups to expand and maintain facilities at outdoor recreational areas to make them more pet-friendly. Help keep the elderly and their pets together until the very end.

I also recommend that local authorities encourage responsible pet ownership. Give discounts on license fees for spayed and neutered dogs, for dogs that have completed socialization and obedience training programs, and for dogs that have been adopted from animal shelters.

I have always been horrified by the awful locations of many municipal shelters. Why do we need to put them near the sewage plant? Why are they designed so poorly from the animals’ point of view? Local authorities need to rethink the zoning issues and establish separate financial accounts so that donations for the animal shelter don’t vanish into the general fund.

Jeanette O'Quin

Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at The Ohio State University, College of Veterinary Medicine
Jeanette O'Quin
What tips do you have for individuals and families looking to own pets without breaking the bank?

Pet ownership comes with many rewards including benefits to human health and emotional wellbeing. Our responsibility to our pets includes providing them with food, water, shelter, healthcare, and companionship. Planning and saving for typical pet-associated expenses is the best way to ensure you can provide good care. You can stretch your dollar farther by adopting your next pet, making sure you keep up with routine wellness care, and avoid feeding expensive brands of pet food.

Newly acquired pets typically need a physical examination, vaccines (or a series of vaccines if they are young) to protect them against common diseases, testing to detect parasites and/or certain viruses, and surgery to spay or neuter them. After this, even a free puppy or kitten doesn’t seem quite so “free”. Local animal shelters usually provide all of these veterinary services and more to the animals prior to adoption (estimated $450-$850 value) with average adoption fees ranging from $40 to $180, this makes adopting a pet from your local shelter quite a bargain.

Don’t skip routine veterinary care including vaccines and parasite control in order to save money. Preventing infectious diseases such as feline panleukopenia and heartworm disease is much easier and cheaper than treating them if they should occur. Regular health examinations are also important, allowing veterinarians to detect and manage issues before they become more severe. For example, your veterinarian may recommend a dental cleaning after their examination. A well timed dental cleaning will cost much less than waiting until it progresses to severe dental disease that requires tooth extractions. Talk with your veterinarian to estimate and plan for the routine costs associated with providing quality healthcare for your pet. Some veterinarians offer wellness packages that bundle multiple services for a discounted price, compared to individual fees.

Pet food is another cost that is part of pet ownership. There are so many brands and types of pet food available on the market - it has become a huge industry. It is important to note that more expensive foods are not always better than less expensive ones. Make sure you are paying for a good quality pet food by following these guidelines. Choose a well-known brand, ideally one that has validated its nutritional adequacy with feeding trials (it will say this on the label). Make sure that the food also has an AAFCO statement on the label indicating that it is “complete and balanced nutrition for. . .” and that your pet falls within the group of animals listed. For cats and dogs, meat and meat byproducts (organs) should be the primary ingredients. Another tip to keep your pet food costs down is to measure the food provided each day ensuring that your pet does not get too much food. Obesity in pets is a growing concern. Not only does it cost more to feed them, but it often leads to an increased risk of joint injury and other diseases which can result to additional medical expenses.

What are the pros and cons of purchasing pet insurance? Do you recommend it?

At this point in time, pet insurance does not work the same way that human healthcare insurance does. A large part of the savings realized through human insurance plans comes from pre-negotiated reductions in fees with the healthcare service providers. For example my recent cholesterol test was billed at $70.00. My insurance paid $9.84, I paid $1.09, and the plan discount (amount that was waived by the provider) was $59.07. Artificially inflated prices like this are not present in the veterinary industry, so insurance plans often do not provide the same return on your investment. Additionally, employers are not paying part of the premiums to subsidize pet insurance. To see if you will benefit from pet insurance you can estimate your pet healthcare expenses over a five year period assuming routine wellness care and 1 major incident (illness or injury) and compare it to the insurance premiums and reimbursement schedule for the same animal over that same 5 year period.

Before selecting a pet insurance, you should determine what you want it to cover. Are you looking for insurance to cover unexpected events such as accidental injury and advanced care options such as cancer treatment? This may be a good value if you can afford routine expenses but do not have the financial ability to pay for larger out of pocket expenses. Or are you looking for insurance to cover routine expenses such as health checks, vaccinations, and dental cleanings? The latter will likely cost more in premiums. There are fewer than a dozen providers, but their plans are very different. Once you know what you would like covered, then compare the plans that offer what you are looking for. Pay close attention to deductibles (annual or per incident), exclusions (some exclude exam fees), and reimbursement (% of actual expenses or % of usual and customary costs).

What measures can local authorities take in order to make their cities more pet-friendly?

Many cities are becoming more and more pet friendly. Dog parks and pet-friendly green spaces where people can relax and play with their pets are a great way to attract dog lovers to your community. And for quick clean up, bag dispensers and pet waste receptacles should be readily available. Many businesses are now allowing their employees to bring their pet to work or have adopted their own office pet. Some restaurants are catering to pet owners with outdoor seating areas where dogs are allowed and sometimes even served! Even travelling with your pet has gotten easier as several hotel chains are accepting them.

Methodology

WalletHub compared the creature-friendliness of the 100 most populated U.S. cities across three key dimensions: 1) Budget, 2) Health Care & Wellness and 3) Outdoor Environment & Amusement. We then compiled 16 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. With regard to our sample, please note that “city” refers to city proper and excludes surrounding metro areas.

Budget – Total Weight: 5

  • Veterinary Care Costs: Full Weight
  • Minimum Pet Care-Provider Rate per Visit: Half Weight
  • Dog Insurance Premium: Full Weight

Health Care & Wellness – Total Weight: 10

  • Number of Veterinarians per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight
  • Number of Pet Caretakers per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight
  • Number of Pet Businesses per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight
  • Number of Pet-Friendly Restaurants per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight
  • Percentage of Pet-Friendly Hotels: Quarter Weight
  • Number of Pet Meetup Groups per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight
  • Average Home Square Footage: Full Weight
  • Number of Animal Shelters per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight

Outdoor Environment & Amusement – Total Weight: 5

  • WalletHub “Weather” Ranking: Full Weight
  • Number of Dog Parks per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight
  • Walk Score: Full Weight
  • Number of Pet-Friendly Trails per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight
  • Number of Dog Shows per 100,000 Residents: Half* Weight

 

Sources: Data used to create these rankings were obtained fromis courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Yelp.com, Zillow, WalkScore.com, TripAadvisor, Pets Bbest, the Council for Community and Economic Research, Sittercity, BringFido, InfoDog, the Trust for Public Land, Meetup and WalletHub research.

Author

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Richie Bernardo is a personal finance writer at WalletHub. He graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism and a minor in business from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Previously, he was a…
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Discussion

 
By: Susmay1
Aug 14, 2015
How did Cincinnati make number one? It is not that pet friendly of a city (speaking as a pet parent resident). And, looking at your breakouts, it only ranked in the top five on one of them.
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