By Kaitlyn Mattson
Pet-Friendly City of the Future installation at the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of Mars Petcare)
The Pet Leadership Council, in partnership with Mars Petcare and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, is leading a pilot program to make workspaces and housing more pet-friendly in Austin, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio.
"We think these are two things a city can do that would be significant for the health of the community, good for pets, good for pet owners, and ultimately good for veterinarians," said Mark Cushing, CEO and founder of the Animal Policy Group and leader of the pilot program.
The efforts are mostly volunteer-run and use the playbook of Mars Petcare's Better Cities for Pets program. The guide has been in the works since 2012 and was published earlier this year. It covers 12 specific traits of pet-friendly cities and how to achieve them.
"Both (Austin and Columbus) view themselves as pet-friendly ... but developers and apartment owners haven't necessarily caught up with the preferences of folks in their cities," Cushing said. "We are putting together a list of targets (developers and companies) in both cities, and will create a lot of one-on-one engagement using Mars Petcare's Better Cities for Pets tools. ... It's an effort to get the conversations going and have people talk, address concerns, and see if we can't get developers and companies in each city to say they will try it. It's an intentional effort, but low-key."
According to research conducted by the Animal Policy Group in 25 markets, Austin and Columbus have low percentages of pet-friendly housing available, 28 percent and 38 percent respectively.
At year-end 2016, 57 percent of all U.S. households owned a pet, according to the 2017-18 edition of the AVMA Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook.
"(And yet) there are so many barriers for people with pets," said Angel May, corporate citizenship lead at Mars Petcare.
Even though research has shown that pets make people happier and healthier, May said, there are still issues with where pets are allowed, so the goal of the Better Cities for Pets model and playbook was to understand the issues and create a foundation to drive change.
For example, many apartments across the U.S. have breed and size restrictions for pets in rental agreements. The Better Cities for Pets guide outlines this specific issue and then offers possible strategies such as evaluating each pet individually rather than having such restrictions.
"Judge (the animal) for its energy, not how it looks," May said. "We don't want people to be judged by how they look. It is the same for dogs. They are individual. They do have breed characteristics, but not every dog is the same."
May said the pilot program in Austin and Columbus will allow the partner organizations to test the solutions that the Better Cities for Pets program has developed, better understand what the two cities are currently doing, and advocate for more pet-friendly solutions.
Related JAVMA content:
Veterinarians can earn certificate in human-animal bond (April 1, 2018)
Responsible ownership the alternative to breed banning, other restrictions (Nov. 15, 2000)