By Amy Sinatra Ayres
Imagine this: You and your best friend hit an exercise class together, pick up some treats at a cute boutique, then go out to eat at a restaurant with a special menu for your pal because, after all, she's a dog.
That's right. This isn't the description of a girls' day out. It's a sampling of the options that are available to dog owners who live in some of the nation's best cities for dogs.
In May, online real estate broker Estately named what it found to be the top 17 American cities for dogs. The factors in their list included weather, Walk Score (the city's walkability), yard size, availability of dog activities, Meetup groups and the availability of dog sitters on Rover.com.
Earlier this year, Nerd Wallet's finance blog compiled a list of its top 10 cities to have a dog. It had some similar criteria but also focused on the financial aspects of having a pet. Its factors included walkability, the number of dog parks where you can get out to socialize and the cost of a visit to the vet.
Below, Vetstreet highlights the cities that made an appearance on both lists - and we went to the source to ask dog owners in those lucky seven spots about what makes their hometown so great for their best friends.
Topping both of the lists was the Pacific Northwest's Portland, and we can see why. First, it has the largest number of dog parks per capita of any large city in the U.S., according to Estately - and you can bring your pooch with you to many places catering to humans. They say it's also home to 19 pet massage therapists and is one of pet-sitting site Rover.com's top 20 cities. Nerd Wallet finds that on top of that, Portland has relatively inexpensive veterinary care.
"You see a lot of people who do take their dogs with them everywhere because you can," says Lizz Smith, a Portland resident and owner of two Pit Bull Terrier-type dogs, Squishy and Kevyn.
She says some area restaurants, such as the Tin Shed, even offer a dog menu - Portland's answer to the kids' menu. There are also plenty of boutique pet shops that supply the demand for high-quality food and treats for furry family members. After all that food, you and your pup can get a combination workout at Sit Stay Fit, which offers fitness classes for the two of you.
"Every park that you can find in town has a dog zone," says Smith, who volunteers with the Born Again Pit Bull Rescue. "And being in a town where it rains all the time, there are a lot of indoor dog parks."
You might not think of Sin City as a place that's teeming with dog parks, but it is! According to Estately, it has the third best number of them per capita (25), and Nerd Wallet adds that one dog park even has gated areas for small, medium and large pups. It's home to a radio show called The Las Vegas Hot Diggity Dog Show, Estately reports, although it also lists a con: a low walkability score. On the plus side, Nerd Wallet finds that the city has affordable vet care.
The dog owners we talked to say that the benefits don't end there. Joe Lilly, who has been a Las Vegas resident for 10 years, lives just 10 minutes from the strip with his 1-year-old Border Collie, Nessie (that's short for The Loch Ness Monster). "Las Vegans really seem to love dogs," he says, possibly due to the number of dog-friendly outdoor malls close to the city, such as Town Square and The District at Green Valley Ranch. There, many of the retailers will offer your dog water and treats.
As far as walks are concerned, Lilly says that the weather is "always nice," and he and Nessie often squeeze in a one- to two-hour hike in the early morning hours, before the temperature begins to rise. Lilly, who helps train and rehabilitate dogs, notes that the city is surrounded by parks, mountains, deserts and lakes - so you can take your pick of how to spend time outdoors with your pooch.
Kelley Gustafson moved to the Las Vegas metro area from California with her family, including 11-year-old white German Shepherd Dog Whistler, last summer. Gustafson says Vegas is the "best city we have lived in for dogs. [There are] lots of trails and sidewalks, too. We are in a new subdivision that has the dog bag trees to pick up after your dog, and I know we are not the only ones. This city seems to have a lot of services for dogs - grooming, vets and pet stores galore."
See Also: 12 Most Talkative Dog Breeds
The temperatures in South Florida can get steamy, but with an abundance of dog-friendly beaches, there are plenty of opportunities for your pal to cool off, too, says Estately. Nerd Wallet calls the city's layout "highly walkable" and says it's affordable for veterinary care. Plus, it has 13 dog-friendly parks and the Amelia Earhart Bark Park, which features five acres of land with benches and drinking fountains designed just for canines, the blog says.
At Vetstreet, we hesitated a bit on Miami because it has controversial breed-specific legislation, which means that you can't keep certain dogs (including Pit Bull-type dogs) in the area. Last year, Miami-Dade County voters decided overwhelmingly to keep the ban.
Still, dog owners who spend their days in the tropical sun say it deserves a place on the list.
"There are several state parks and national parks in South Florida that allow dogs, including Bill Baggs State Park on Key Biscayne and Everglades National Park," says Christi Sherouse, who brings her 10-year-old Double Doodle Miniature Labradoodle, Cleo, to beaches and out shopping at some of the area's high-end outdoor malls. "Her favorite store at Merrick Park is Nordstrom, as some of the employees keep snacks hidden behind the counters for her."
Sherouse says she finds that the area is "very receptive to well-behaved dogs."
As far as the weather goes, it's the snow, rather than the sun, in Minneapolis that makes some dogs very happy. Estately says the Minnesota city has a full menu of dog-friendly restaurants, along with a whole lot of parks and plentiful hiking trails to hit with your best friend. Nerd Wallet, meanwhile, says the city is a "mecca for dog owners," thanks to the parks and hiking, and features lots of events and gatherings to attend with your pooch. One business even has Doga - dog yoga.
Minnesotan Ann Brimacombe spends so much time on the hundreds of miles of city and state trails with her Shiba Inu, Kenji, that the pup is known as the "Mayor of Minnehaha," the name of a creek there that flows into the Mississippi. At 11 years old, Kenji is "beautiful and fit thanks to his daily strolls along the creek and around the city lakes," Brimacombe says. Kenji has lots of adventures on his walks, even learning to skijor with his owners during the long winters.
Brimacombe and Kenji enjoy the various dog parks, including what she calls "the crown jewel," an off-leash park below Fort Snelling along the Mississippi River bottoms. The large park includes a beach, bluffs and several types of forests. "This park is always busy, but because of its size and varied terrain, you can see as many or as few people and dogs as you want," Brimacombe says. "Plus, if your dog likes water, it's a dream. Just ask Kenji."
It's no surprise to find the City by the Bay - a place with more dogs than kids - on both of these lists. Estately reasons that it has ranked second in the nation for walkability and has the third highest number of dog parks for a U.S. city. When they're ready for a ride, the blog says, dogs are even allowed on the iconic trolley cars. It's also home to a variety of dog-friendly eateries and gyms, has 50 Meetup groups to choose from and offers a doggie magazine, Bay Woof. Nerd Wallet notes that as a "city for dog lovers," many of its 27 parks host breed-specific events.
"Having a dog opens up your world in San Francisco as people like to talk dogtalk about their dogs, what dog parks are like, dog-friendly vacations, dog events and fundraisers on the weekends," says Patty Stanton, who lives on the outskirts of the city with her rescued 10-year-old Cockapoo, Molly. Stanton volunteers for Muttville Senior Dog Rescue and enjoys spending time at Glen Canyon, a "terrific urban park." She agrees that there's an abundance of dogs in San Francisco, and she knows why. "It's dog heaven here!"
See Also: City vs. Country Dogs: Who's Healthier?
Portland's neighbor to the north might be a little rainy, but it features a "local culture committed to happy, active dogs," Estately says. The blog says that like San Francisco, the city's rising dog population means that it also has more dogs than kids. The city where Rover.com got its start features 32 Meetup groups for dog lovers and has lots of dog-friendly businesses.
Unsurprisingly for this coffee-loving city, one of them is BARK! Espresso, where your pooch can enjoy the Hound Dog Hangout while you grab a latte. Nerd Wallet deems its veterinary care "somewhat affordable" but says the city has a walkable layout and its huge Warren G. Magnuson Park has an off-leash area that allows your pup to romp on the shores of Lake Washington.
"Being a Seattle dog owner means being able to explore your city with your best friend," says Aaron Eastlick, who lives there with Evora, an Italian Greyhound, and Vegas, a Pit Bull. Eastlick works for Trupanion, a Seattle-based pet insurance company. "There are even dog-friendly bars and restaurants such as Norm's in Freemont where you can socialize with people and dogs, and even get a 'dog beer' for your dog. With beaches and lakes to visit and swim, woods to explore and all sorts of play groups, dog walks, Meetups and activities to keep you busy all year long, Seattle is a great place to have a dog."
It seems the nation's capital might be one of the best-kept secrets when it comes to dog-friendly cities. According to Estately, there are canines in less than 22 percent of the city's households, but it's the seventh most walkable city and it has plenty of parks for walking, including seven dog parks. And it's one of Rover.com's top 20 cities. Nerd Wallet concurs, and points out that it has affordable veterinary care and clean streams for dogs who are water lovers.
In her dog-friendly corner of the city, Georgetown's Glover Park, Michelle Jones admits that it's "completely common (but maybe a bit odd) to know neighbor dogs' names but not their names. This past year when our former dog passed, everyone in the neighborhood we knew reached out with sympathy. Likewise, they welcomed our new pet immediately after we got her!"
Jones says her dog, Tink Bell, comes along to walk her daughters to school each morning. Dogs are a big part of holiday celebrations in the city, too, with Fourth of July dog parades and pups dressing up for Halloween. And Washington D.C. Parks and Recreation hosts an annual dog splash at the pools just before they close and clean them for the year. Like many of the other cities on our list, "Bars host animal-friendly happy hours, and countless stores and restaurants have water out for dogs all year long around the city," Jones says.
More Dog-Loving Cities
Of course, these aren't the nation's only dog-friendly cities.
As we mentioned before, there are other cities on Estately and Nerd Wallet's lists that didn't overlap. The other 10 cities on Estately's list include San Diego, Calif.; Austin, Texas; Albuquerque, N.M.; Tucson, Ariz.; Boston, Mass.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Chicago, Ill.; Denver, Colo.; and Cleveland, Ohio. The additional three cities on Nerd Wallet's list are St. Louis, Mo.; Milwaukee, Wis.; and Oakland, Calif.
What other cities do you think should be on the list? If you think yours was missed, please tell us about it in the comments below.