Dogs in Our Lives
If you're a dog guardian, you already know how important dogs are to humans. Dogs often are a core part of our families; they make us laugh, get us outside more often, and connect us to other people. But dogs also are important in ways that aren't so obvious. Vets and pet stores benefit economically from dogs, but so do many other businesses in town -- from Ruff Wear to the outdoor stores where dog guardians buy their gear to accompany their dog on the trail, snow, or water.Here are some data and general info on the importance of dogs. This starts with some quotes that illustrate more eloquently and succinctly than numbers why people love dogs.
According to US Census data (check out Table No. 1236), 36% of American households own dogs. Roughly half of Bend households own dogs. Needless to say, this is not a fringe phenomenon. It's not just that many households own dogs, but that dogs are an important part of our lives. Recent national data show that 85% of dog guardians think of their dog as part of the family. But where it really gets interesting is that 94% of dog guardians feel close to (as opposed to distant from) their dog. This is greater than the percent feeling close to mothers (87%), cats (84%), and fathers (74%).
Dog Guardians as Recreationists
Many of us value Bend's small-town character, including daily encounters with friends and acquaintances in grocery stores, walking downtown, etc. As Bend grows, there is the risk that social interaction and community bonds may weaken. As New York City found, provision of off-leash areas in city parks promotes social interaction and strengthens community bonds. What better place for new and old residents to meet their neighbors than in parks, and what better catalyst for going to parks than having a dog? Ok, kids and dogs are both good reasons for going to the park...
In principle, the number of participants engaged in an activity should affect how park and forest agencies allocate access and develop facilities. This is particularly important when uses conflict. If there were only five people in Bend who hike with dogs, we wouldn't expect the Forest Service to focus on providing off-leash access. However, 35% of Central Oregonians who hike do so with their dog. Statewide, the most recent data indicate that 21% of Oregonians hike at least once per year. Of these, 35% hike with dogs. Combined, this means that 7% of all Oregonians hike with dogs. This percentage is higher than that of Oregonians who cross-country ski (3%), snowmobile (1%), or go horseback riding (5%). We don't just hike with our dogs -- 25% of Oregonians who cross-country ski or snowshoe do so with their dogs, 41% of those who go horseback riding, 39% of those running/walking for exercise, and 42% of those who walk for pleasure do so with their dogs. In short, park and forest agencies should focus on the interests of dog guardians in addition to the interests of other recreation groups.
There is national evidence that access to off-leash areas can affect house hunting decisions, and many dog guardians say that Bend's reputation as a dog friendly town played a role in their decision to move here. This includes business owners who brought their business with them or established it after arrival. Many of these dog guardians have been disappointed to find that reality has not lived up to the reputation. As one example, a woman from Utah was planning to move to Central Oregon, saw this website, and emailed to ask which community (Bend, Redmond, Sunriver, etc.) was the most dog friendly -- as that would affect her decision of where to live. Thus, making Bend truly dog friendly can contribute to the region's growth and economic vitality. Richard Florida's best-selling book Rise of the Creative Class stressed the importance of “developing a world-class people climate” as part of the economic development process. Places to walk one’s dog was specifically noted as an investment that would benefit a wide swath of the population and attract the "creative class" that makes a local economy vibrant.
Dogs and Children
Some people are concerned that dogs can be dangerous to children. We fully understand this concern, and we believe there should be park and forest areas where dogs are not allowed off leash. An important context is the widespread concern that today's generation of children is spending less time outdoors than did previous generations. This has spawned books such as Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods and programs such as the Forest Service More Kids in the Woods program. Providing dog-friendly access can actually facilitate children spending time outdoors. Nationally, the dog ownership rate increases as household size increases (see the US Census link above). Likewise, of the Central Oregonians who hike in groups of 3 or more household members, 56% do so with dogs. This is almost twice the rate for groups of 1 to 2 household members. In short, households with children are more likely than others to have dogs and are more likely than others to hike with dogs. And, when Oregon State Parks asked Central Oregon kids what activities they like to do outdoors, one of the responses was "play with dogs."So we need to provide areas with opportunities for families not wishing to encounter off leash dogs, but we also need to provide areas where families with dogs can recreate.
The effect of dogs on the natural environment is complex. Suffice to say that impacts can be positive, negative, or neutral, and we have not seen any compelling environmental reason to restrict dog access. As an example of the positive impact of better access, the lack of convenient off leash access means dog guardians must drive to outlying areas to walk / ski with their dogs. Provision of convenient off leash access will thereby reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The fact that AAA is in the 9th edition of its Pet Book and creates a list of "most accommodating cities" is testament to the role of dogs in consumer travel decisions. Even New York City has gotten in on the dog-friendly travel phenomenon. Locally, the 2006/2007 Bend Visitor Guide has a dog theme. Dogs are featured on almost every page, and the overall message is "unleash yourself." If only we could... Of course, Bend is partly a winter resort, with cross-country skiing being one of its key products. Dogs are not welcome at Mt. Bachelor or the main cross-country ski sno-parks. Sun Valley, McCall, the Methow Valley, and other winter destinations have seen the value of dog-friendly skiing, and we created theWanoga Ski Trail to provide this experience here in Central Oregon.
Nationwide, dog guardians annually spend $179 per dog for veterinary care. Add dog food, gear, training, day care and kennels, and we're talking a significant contribution to the local economy. According to the Cascade Business News 2007 Book of Lists, there are 36 vets with approximately 230 employees in Central Oregon. There are 43 other pet-oriented businesses (training, grooming, etc.) with approximately 165 employees. This covers all of Central Oregon and all pets (not just dogs), but it illustrates the importance of pets to local industry.
Recent research suggests that stroking pet dogs prompts release of "feel good" hormones in humans, including serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin. This is one example of how dogs can enhance emotional well-being in humans. For more studies on pets and health, visit the Delta Society. St.Charles apparently allows patients to have dogs in the hospital (cats, too, but we're talking dogs here...). As their info flyer notes, "continued contact with family pets can contribute to a sense of well-being and hope. We believe that the presence of pets who are loved and who can give love unconditionally in return can help make this a healing environment for our patients."
Fewer than 50% of Americans engage in exercise at levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and there is evidence that dog ownership increases physical activity and enhances health. Indeed, a recommends dog walking as a physical activity strategy. A third of Oregonians walk for pleasure (for example, around the neighborhood or on local trails). Those that walk with dogs engage in this activity 50% more often than those that walk without dogs. Similarly, a recent study covering Baltimore and Seattle found that dog guardians spend 63% more time engaged in leisure walking than do non-guardians. These data, analyses elsewhere, and anecdotal experience indicate that dog ownership stimulates physical activity.