By Seth Daniel
The population of dogs in Boston is em-“barking” on a continuing surge in numbers, but a recent study on pet-friendly cities has indicated that out of the top 100 cities in America, Boston ranks 98th – and some dog owners agree that the City needs to do more to accommodate pets and their owners.
According to the online study organization WalletHub, Boston ranked third from last in terms of being pet-friendly – just below Detroit and above Santa Ana, CA and New York City. The top city was Orlando, with Birmingham, AL coming in second.
The study, which was done this month in honor of Homeless Animals Day, looked at three key dimensions, including Pet Budget, Pet Health and Wellness and Outdoor Pet Friendliness. The study looked at 19 key metrics within that category and analyst Jill Gonzalez said that the metrics were developed in conjunction with academic experts in order to get the best gauge of whether a City is pet friendly.
Gonzalez said having City facilities is important, and acknowledging dogs is key, but a major part of the study focused on veterinary resources and pet retail opportunities.
“The most pet-friendly cities have low veterinary and insurance costs,” said Gonzalez of WalletHub. “They also offer a wide range of health and wellness amenities for pets, from a high numbers of pet businesses and veterinarians to homes with plenty of square footage. Dog parks and walking trails certainly don’t hurt, either.
“Boston ranked poorly mostly due to its high costs and scarce health and wellness amenities,” she continued. “For example, Boston has one of the highest veterinary costs in the country, at almost $63 per visit on average, and it has the 4th lowest number of veterinarians at just 3 per 100,000 residents. Pet businesses are few and far between in the Boston area, with only 24 for each 100,000 residents.”
The low ranking is a surprise for some dog owners, but for others it’s something they assumed for a long time and saw the study as simply confirmation of their suspicions that Boston isn’t really progressive in tackling and addressing the growing dog population – especially in areas like the South End and Charlestown, which have the largest growing population of registered dogs by neighborhood.
In the South End, which does have the largest number of registered dogs in the city and likely many more in principle than on record, there is only one official dog park. That is in Peter’s Park, and it is the only facility where dogs officially can be off-leash in a designated space. That said, it is completely funded by private donations, and a renovation project scheduled for some time in the fall has been paid for by a Friends group that has raised the money to pay for the $67,000 project.
Meanwhile, in Charlestown, there are no designated facilities for dogs – and it is the neighborhood where, seemingly, the population is growing the most rapidly.
A new dog group that formed there this year, called Charlestown Dogs, has been outspoken in its initial year about what it sees as a lack of planning by the City for dogs. Leaders of that group indicate that planning agencies within City government don’t even have dogs on their radar.
Co-Founder Chris Lovett said some members recently attended the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s (BRA) 2030 Visioning meetings, and brought up the topic of planning for dogs.
“One of our members did go and spoke up about dogs and he said it was obvious they didn’t have dogs or pet management in mind for 2030,” he said. “They looked at him like he was crazy. I think it’s uniquely bad in Boston and maybe we don’t realize that. I think other cities that are doing master plans are thinking about dogs and pets and places for them in those plans. This is an uncomfortable conversation about dogs. The reason is there are a lot of people who don’t want to make accommodations for ‘stupid dogs.’ They would rather see dogs just go away.”
Added Co-Founder Kristen Lanni, “It’s really like people who don’t have children saying they don’t want to put money into the school system because they don’t use it. It’s short sighted and a terrible mentality. I think the population of people with dogs is very high. For Boston proper, the South End and Charlestown, the demographic is primarily young adults and empty nesters. There really aren’t too many 10-year-old children here. Dogs are very popular with young adults and empty nesters. The writing is one the wall that dogs are now part of the urban household and need to be acknowledged.”
The BRA indicated that it doesn’t specifically address pets in planning for developments, but does include such topics in open space discussions – and in many of the new developments that space is tabbed for dogs and pets. A lot of those conversations, they said, are handled through the Parks Department.
Overall, though, the City doesn’t seem to have a major master plan to address the growing dog population in the downtown neighborhoods.
Increasingly, private businesses and developers are turning to being more friendly to dogs and dog owners on their private property. Most businesses in the South End that don’t serve food allow dogs in the store, and on Shawmut Street there is even a bakery devoted to dog treats, the Polka Dog Bakery.
South End Ink Block developer National Development – which also has properties in Charlestown – has focused much of its efforts on stressing dog ownership and welcoming pets. That, said Ted Tye of National Development, is a key strategy for the demographic that is renting Ink Block apartments and purchasing condos at Siena and Sepia.
“At Ink Block, we are all about dogs,” he said. “More than 40 percent of our residents have pets and they are an important part of the Ink Block community. It is essential that developers plan for pets as part of a new project, but public pet amenities can become strained when this is not possible. We think pet amenities are an important factor when residents consider renting at Ink Block or buying a new condo at Siena or Sepia.”
He said they have an in-house business, Baroo, which staffs its office in Ink Block with three to four employees daily. There is also a pet grooming room with a dog bath and an indoor pet relieving station so pet owners don’t need to go outside in the winter. There are also two, outdoor fenced pet relieving areas within the development too.
Activities such as Yappy Hour cocktail parties and a planned new dog park under the Expressway are other things Tye pointed to.
Such private developments are high-points and more and more are increasingly taking their pet friendliness inside the confines of their developments.
However, on the outside, many such as Lovett and Lanni said they feel like taking out the dog for a run has to be a covert activity.
“You feel you have to sneak around,” said Lanni. “You feel unwelcome in many places or that you’re doing something wrong in taking your dog on a daily walk.”