ICMA Presentation Shares Pet-Friendly Housing Insights, Sample Legislation and More

In September, the BETTER CITIES FOR PETS™ team joined city leaders from around the world at the International City/Country Management Association (ICMA)’s UNITE Annual Conference for 2020.

In a session called People Need Pets More Than Ever: Why Cities Should Prioritize Keeping Pets in Homes (And How To Do It), St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and Ed Jamison, Director of Dallas Animal Services, shared how their cities are working to break down barriers to pet ownership.

As Mayor Johnson explained, it’s important for cities to recognize that many city departments impact pets, including housing, park and recreation, transportation, homelessness solutions and emergency management.

“The BETTER CITIES FOR PETS™ program helped Dallas to identify the gaps in our methodology and policies and provided us with a roadmap to address these inequities. In doing so, we can keep families together and make Dallas happier, safer and healthier for all our residents,” he shared.

Mayor Kriseman discussed the challenges pet owners can face when trying to find pet-friendly housing – such as places where pets aren’t allowed, pet fees are high or there are limitations on pet breed or size.

St. Petersburg is looking at its city policies and programs to try to minimize this issue. They’re working with developers who are building new housing and looking at potential ways to incentivize the inclusion of units that are available to pet owners.

Plus, Mayor Kriseman noted, the city’s “St. Pete Paws” program is part of its 2050 long-range planning, “coming to the meetings and talking about the importance of being a pet-friendly city and making sure that’s a part of our long-term plans, including for housing.”

That’s key, according to Director Jamison, because it gets pets into planning conversations early. “In Dallas, our approach has been to get as far upstream as possible. One, to get people thinking about it. And two, to start making them aware that there are lots of resources that can help them with their pet.”

This has been especially important for assisting pet owners during the pandemic, he noted. Because the city’s animal welfare team is at the table for emergency management discussions, they were able to make sure resources for pet owners were available and communicated along with other support for residents. People needing help can find it all in one place.

At the end of the session, Pete Rowan, Senior Director of Public Affairs for Mars, Inc. discussed some of the policy opportunities cities can explore to help support pet owners and their pets.

“With pets becoming an increasingly important part of our family structure, and the significant amount of data we have about the physical and emotional benefits of pet ownership, there’s no better time for cities to take steps to implement policies that support keeping people and pets together,” he shared.

He introduced a new toolkit on the BETTER CITIES FOR PETS™ website, which offers sample ordinances cities can work from as a starting point for pet-friendly legislation. These include:

  • Model ordinance for pet-friendly low-income housing
  • Model ordinance against breed-based pet restrictions
  • Model ordinance for microchipping pets
  • Model ordinance for shelter reunification of lost or stray pets

All four are available for download in the toolkit located here, and other housing resources are listed as well.

“When you are a pet-friendly city, I think you become a more desirable city,” said Mayor Kriseman. “It improves the quality of life and that is a really significant driver when it comes to your efforts to attract businesses to your community or get the businesses that you have to stay and expand… Since so many of our residents are pet owners and so many who visit us are pet owners, being a pet-friendly city is very attractive.”

Added Johnson, “In today’s environment, comprehensive approaches such as BETTER CITIES FOR PETS™ are critical. It’s time to reimagine the family unit and recognize what pet owners already know to be true – that companion animals are family members.”

Keep an eye out for the BETTER CITIES FOR PETS™ 2020 report later in the fall. We’ll share more insights about how the pandemic has affected pets and people, and how meeting key needs can help cities differentiate themselves and support citizens. In the meantime, see last year’s report here.

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