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Going to the Dogs?

Milwaukee is a great place for dogs (and canine lovers)

Sep. 10, 2013
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With access to dog parks and affordable vet care, Milwaukee dog owners and their pets aren’t living too shabbily compared to those in other cities. Recently, Divya Raghavan, analyst for NerdWallet—an unbiased financial literacy and consumer advocacy website—spearheaded the study “Ten Best Cities To Have a Dog,” which analyzed 50 U.S. cities, ranking Milwaukee No. 8 out of 10.

To create her top 10 list, Raghavan considered these factors:

No. 1: Can your dog easily play and socialize? She included the number of off-leash dog parks per 100,000 residents.

No. 2: Can you afford to have a dog? She estimated affordability by the cost of an annual checkup (office visit fee) at the vet. No other pet costs were involved.

No. 3: Are there places to walk your dog? She developed and included a “Walk Score” of the city to assess how easy (or difficult) it is to take your dog for walks.

Milwaukee was awarded No. 8 because of its few—but nice—off-leash dog parks, its low-cost veterinary care and its easy city landscape to walk a dog in, said Raghavan.

In comparison, Portland, Ore., took first place with 32 off-leash dog parks, affordable vet care and easy city streets.

So, based on those guidelines, how dog friendly is Milwaukee? Take a look.


It’s Play Time

There are five dog exercise areas (aka dog parks) in Milwaukee: Currie, Granville, Estabrook, Runway and Warnimont—all unique from one another. To use these areas, dog owners must have their dog(s) up to date on vaccines and licensing and purchase a daily ($5) or annual ($25) dog exercise area (DEA) permit. Additional rules and etiquette apply.

Working with the Milwaukee County Parks system, several Milwaukee dog owners founded Residents for Off-leash Milwaukee Parks (ROMP) in 2002 in an effort to expand the number of areas dogs could be off leash and socialize. 

At the time, there was only one dog park and it wasn’t well known, widely used or conveniently located, said Robin Barry, communications chair of the board of directors for ROMP.

“Many people were driving out of town or using informal spaces,” Barry said.

So ROMP members scoped out New York, Chicago and San Francisco parks in order to develop a strategy for putting parks in urban areas that need them. Now dog parks are popular and spread out.

This fall, there will be one opening in Riverwest called Roverwest and one in Bay View in spring. Roverwest will be Milwaukee’s first official urban dog park, according to Barry. “The idea is that we have a system of off-leash dog parks, so that no matter where you live there is a dog park close by,” Barry said.

She noted that $25 annually is a bargain compared to other cities’ prices and believes the rise in parks is a great indicator of Milwaukee becoming more dog friendly.


The Vet Is In

Raghavan said the vet cost she analyzed covers an annual exam for a 4-year-old dog, not including vaccines or lab work. She determined that the average across 304 large U.S. cities was $45.29, with Milwaukee’s average at $36.

But each clinic’s price varies and some include more in the basic exam than others, so asking questions and comparing costs is necessary.

For instance, Norwood Animal Clinic (5345 N. Lovers Lane Road) charges $49 for a routine exam, which includes the fees associated with paperwork, making the appointment and the exam by the veterinarian and vet tech.

“Milwaukee has great vet care, from city-subsidized spay/vaccine services to high-quality, high-priced referral care. It’s being able to access the range of services that’s important,” said veterinarian Rex Bach.

As someone who doesn’t associate low-cost vet care with dog friendliness and stays clear of dog parks, he has mixed feelings on whether the city is truly dog friendly based on this criteria.

However, he notes that Milwaukee is dog friendly in a sense because of the Wisconsin Humane Society, large number of rescue groups and nonparticipation in breed-specific legislation for the most part.


Let’s Go For A Walk

Milwaukee was given a walkability score of 61, meaning some errands can be done on foot. This was configured on a scale of 0 (meaning all errands require a car) to 100 (meaning no errands require a car).

Kelly Price, professional dog walker and sitter, finds the city to be quite easy to walk in and can average up to eight dogs a day. She walks in West Allis, Bay View and Shorewood, as well as on the East Side and North Side of Milwaukee with little difficulty.

Everyone has their dogs on leashes and clients’ houses are easy to get to, according to Price. Price started her business, Four Paws Pet Sitting, in January. She also co-owns a doggy day care called The Barking Lot, which opened in May.

“Milwaukee is obviously pet friendly because there are doggy day cares all over and there are always pet-friendly events going on around town,” boasted Price.


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