For the 4 in 10 American families that own at least one dog, choosing a place to live isn't just about the humans in the family: They want their pets to be happy, too. For dog owners, cities with lots of dog parks and open green spaces, as well as relatively mild temperatures, mean their pooches can stay in shape more easily. Cat owners, as well as those who live with more unusual pets, such as rabbits or birds, usually want to make sure their area has enough veterinarians to care for their animals. And all pet lovers can be affected by local and state regulations that specify where their pets are allowed and what type of vaccines they need.
That's why we focused on weather, population density, and the availability of green space when creating our top 10 list for the best places to live for pet lovers. After narrowing down the field based on those factors, we interviewed pet experts on the most animal-friendly towns. Len Kain, cofounder of DogFriendly.com, says he first looks at the availability of dog parks as well as major attractions that allow pets. "Can you take your dogs to outdoor concerts? Drive-in movie theaters? Outdoor malls? These are all important issues to travelers and the people who live there," he says.
Some spots that appear pet friendly at first glance, such as San Francisco or Seattle, have limited pet-friendly housing, Kain adds. "Places with expensive housing tend to be more restrictive with pet housing," he says.
Kain also warns that local laws and regulations, which frequently change, can make life tough for pet owners. Some cities, such as Jackson, Wyo., have strict no-dog policies in many of their parks, and dog beaches in Los Angeles are virtually impossible to find. On the Maryland and Delaware coasts, on the other hand, there are dog-friendly beaches for anyone who purchases a relatively inexpensive permit. New York's laws have been slowly shifting in favor of allowing dogs on beaches, Kain says. Rocky Point, N.Y., on the shore of the Long Island Sound, allows dogs during less popular hours: before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m. in the summer and anytime during the winter. (They must be kept on a leash.)
Vicki Kung, cofounder of www.dogpark.com, says that as the exurbs expand away from cities, smaller cities and towns are gaining more dog parks. "Dog park advocates are no longer the lunatic fringe of community recreation resource users. There are so many cities that now support dog parks that community groups are having an easier time pointing to success stories and benefits," she says. California and Florida have been leaders in the creation of dog parks, she adds, while Idaho, Montana, and many of the southern states have been catching up. Butte, Mont., offers plenty of hiking trails on nearby mountain paths for dog owners.
For anyone with multiple pets or pet-related businesses, Kain recommends living within at least 100 miles of a large veterinary center, usually found at universities, in case pets need specialized care. The University of California-Davis and the University of Florida-Gainesville both have such centers.
Rabbit owner Adam Goldfarb, director of the pets at risk program for the Humane Society of the United States, says it's also important for owners of less common animals to make sure they have access to veterinary resources. He prefers living in a location with more than one rabbit vet, for example. That kind of information can be found on animal society Web sites, such as the House Rabbits Society or the Association of Avian Veterinarians.
Animal lovers looking to adopt pets from their homes also have plenty of options. Goldfarb says that rural areas, particularly those in the South, tend to have the most animals in need of homes, as do large urban ones, such as Baltimore and Detroit. Ellicott City, Md., is an easy drive from Baltimore's animal shelters and also offers more than 100 square miles of green space within 15 miles of the city.
Check out these top 10 places for pet lovers to live: