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June 2012
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Apartments lure renters by pampering their pets

By Jim Buchta and Janet Moore McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceSNbS

MINNEAPOLIS - One way developers are attracting dog-owning residents is by rolling out Fido-friendly amenities, including indoor potty spots with "canine turf," spa-style dog washes with easy-access walk-up ramps, grooming stations, heated runs and pet-minded concierge services.

Other buildings are contemplating activities such as doggy yoga and Olympics.

"Dogs are just considered family members," said Ali Jarvis, founder of SidewalkDog.com, a website for dog owners in Minnesota's Twin Cities. It's "making it easier to live with your dog."

Such features were virtually unheard of just a few years ago. Few apartments allowed dogs and if they did, pet owners were often relegated to a far section of a building, and they were on their own when it came to finding a patch of green space and a spot to pamper their pooch. Plus, a pet deposit and monthly surcharge were standard, along with weight and breed restrictions.

But that's all changing. "There's been a real cultural shift," Jarvis said.

More than a third of U.S. households have a dog, the nation's most-favored pet. Six out of 10 households consider pets to be part of the family.

In the wake of the housing crash, demand for rentals has been on the rise, especially among young professionals and boomers. Nationally, homeownership has fallen, driving down vacancy rates.

Dog-friendly perks are a way landlords can set themselves apart in an increasingly competitive rental market. But Tina Gassman, spokeswoman for the Minnesota MultiHousing Association, said that the trend is also a response to changing demographics.

"Boomers are acquiring pets to fill the void of the empty nest and the Gen Y population is getting married later, or not at all, and having babies later, or not at all, so many have pets instead," she said. "As these two groups make up more and more of the renter population, there is an increased demand to meet the needs pet ownership entails."

On the flip side of the economic spectrum, Gassman said that demand for dog-friendly buildings also has been driven by an increase in the number of people who lost their home to foreclosure, but are accustomed to having pets.

"Apartment-search criteria naturally includes meeting needs of those pets," she said.

Dedicated dog runs and potty spots are now de rigueur, but dog washes are becoming increasingly popular, too. At the Third North apartment building in Minneapolis, there's a "pet wash room" dedicated to pampering pooches with a stainless-steel dog wash with a walk-up ramp and an elevated grooming station.

Third North was designed with several apartments that have direct access to the outdoors so owners don't have to hop on an elevator.

"More people have pets and they're family members, so it's important to have the amenities they want," said Maureen Michaelski, senior project manager for the developer, Schafer Richardson.

Kit Richardson, the company's principal, is not only putting money into the effort; he's also dedicating his time as a board member of Dog Grounds, a nonprofit that operates three Minneapolis dog parks, including one on land provided by his company.

At Track29, a new upscale apartment building in Minneapolis, there's a heated outdoor dog run with "canine turf" and floor drains that make clean-up easier, a dog wash and a canine agility course. The developer, Ross Fefercorn, said that at least 35 percent of the residents in that building have dogs, so he's planning spring and summer activities to accommodate them.

"We'll be having dog yoga, beer with your buddies, and doggy Olympics," he said.

Twin Cities-based developer Curt Gunsbury said that catering to dogs is more than a marketing ploy, it's a way to cultivate community.

"Dog people are happy people," he said. "Dogs influence the formation of community, and that's hard to come by when you're living in an anonymous setting like an apartment building."

Gunsbury installed heated sidewalks at two new Minneapolis buildings, Soltva and Solhaus, eliminating the use of salt on icy sidewalks, which can irritate Fido's tender feet. And at the nearby Copham apartments, there's an indoor "relief area" with AstroTurf, a fake fire hydrant and a self-cleaning/sanitizing system.

"It has been a big hit with the urban dog owners, especially with the cold weather," said Brent Rogers, vice president at Greco Real Estate Development.


Jim Buchta and Janet Moore write for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

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