The Pet Realty Network may seem like a silly idea, but the demographics suggest the idea is ahead of its time. As the U.S. becomes more and more densely populated -- that's to say heavily populated (not populated with dense people,) residents must face the fact that the age of encroachment is over. No longer can smokers pollute the wide open spaces; nor can pet owners impose their barking, meowing, litter-producing, defecating animals on others.
The reason? Pet ownership is so out of control that it's like herding cats.
The growth of pets has been exponential. According to the 2007-2008 National Pet Owners (NPO) Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association , 63 percent of U.S. households, or 71.1 million homes, own a pet. A record 44.8 million households owned dogs and 38.4 million owned cats in 2006. Cats outnumber dogs by 88 million to 75 million. That's a big change from 1988, the first year the NPO survey was conducted, when 56 percent of U.S. households owned a pet.
What's more interesting is the change in pet-owner demographics and how that number may correspond to other demographic changes.
For example, pets used to be purchased by families with children (think Timmy and Lassie), but now the majority of pet owners, 61 percent, are childless. Childless households cover the gamut of singles, unmarried couples, couples waiting to have kids, gay couples, empty-nesters and perhaps a few terrorist cells.
In 2006, for the first time, single heads of households outnumbered married heads of households, now only 48 percent of households are headed by a husband or wife. Single women make up one-fifth of homebuyers.
Americans are soothing loneliness with pets, and spending $40 billion annually to spoil them like babies. By the end of the decade, APPMA projects annual pet expenditures to reach $50 billion.
The pet boom has been studied by the American Kennel Club, which recently released its first-ever AKC 21st Century Dog Owners Study, which focuses on "the behaviors, attitudes and purchasing habits of dog owners. Of the 750 AKC respondents, 42 percent of women said they own a dog to enhance their personal health and reduce stress. Not surprisingly, 99 percent of owners surveyed stated the reason they own a dog is for companionship. And 88 percent of dog owners surveyed regard their dog as a beloved family member."
When asked about the benefits of dog ownership, the AKC respondents, the majority of whom are female, said the following:
- 72 percent of owners credited their four-legged best friends with enhancing their own personal health.
- Over half (51 percent) of dog owners surveyed stated that their dogs affect how they spend their leisure time.
- The top activity enjoyed by dog owners is a good old-fashioned walk (which is a biggie for pet-friendly neighborhoods.) Almost half (48 percent) declared that they enjoy leisurely strolls with their four legged best friends.
- 87 percent of dog owners said they watch dog shows on T.V., which suggests that dogs are a top-of-mind enjoyment
- Nearly two thirds of owners fence their yards to contain their pets in various ways, affirming their commitment to responsible dog ownership.
- Most owners enjoy their canine companions as household pets, and almost half (48 percent) have owned a dog for 20 years or more.
- Four out of 10 dog owners have made arrangements for their dogs in the event that they pass away before their dog does. Over half (67 percent) of respondents felt that the most common drawback against owning a dog is the potential for feeling sad when the dog dies.
- Almost half of dog owners surveyed stated they specifically look for dog friendly hotels and other accommodations when booking travel plans.
- When buying a car, 47 percent of owners consider their dogs comfort in the decision making process. For longtime dog owners (10+ years), the likelihood of purchasing a car based upon travel needs of their dogs increased to 52 percent.
"The study reveals that dog ownership heavily influences both lifestyle and purchasing habits," said AKC spokesperson Lisa Peterson.
There's even a site called Dogcars.com where car buyers can rate and learn about pet-friendly vehicles. Honda is designing a new dog-friendly car called the W.O.W., or Wonderful Open-hearted Wagon. Guess they couldn't quite make the BOW-WOW work, as the car remains only a concept, but Honda surely knows their target market. If only one-fifth of Japanese households have a dog, and there are 44.8 million dog-owning households in America, it's a sure bet that some version of the W.O.W. will make its BOW in the U.S.some day.
All of this information points to a potentially successful niche market for real estate agents, especially considering that approximately 10.7 million families move with pets each year, according to a March 2007 article from Pet Product News International.
The Pet Realty Network is actively seeking real estate developers and communities to join by registering for free. Members can then upload any number of their Pet Friendly Communities for a minimal fee per upload to the national database of Pet Friendly Real Estate, targeted to a national and international audience of Pet Friendly Visitors. Promotion of the website, includes, “Monday at the Water Bowl,” a series of Dog to Dog Interviews offering a fresh perspective into lives and personalities of some of the most successful “Top Dogs” of Politics, Industry, Media, Sports, Entertainment and Technology through the eyes of their dogs.
Additional marketing initiatives incorporate Humane Societies and Pet Shelters nationwide with THE LUCKY DAY Campaign, connecting pet-friendly people with pet-friendly real estate to help reduce the number of pets surrendered to shelters due to residential pet restrictions or when relocating. In fact, caring for unwanted dogs is such a problem that California is considering making mandatory neutering and spaying of pets state law, punishable by a $500 fine. The state spends $300 million annually feeding, caring for and putting down approximately 500,000 unwanted animals.
So encouraging responsible pet ownership through advancing pet-friendly communities should not only please pet-lovers, but community bureaucracies, too.
And the best part is, you can be pet-friendly without putting yourself in the doghouse by violating any Fair Housing Laws. Pets are not a protected class. Yet.