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By Prachi Bhardwaj
December 15, 2020
Money; Getty Images

When your best friend has a proclivity for walks and squirrel-chasing, where you live matters.

For dog owners, good weather and room to play are essential to help keep the doggy zoomies at bay. But it can’t just be paradise in the middle of nowhere — it’s also important to have a sufficient number of pet stores, kennels, and veterinarians nearby to ensure care doesn’t get too complicated or expensive. And through it all, families need to address their human needs: a safe neighborhood, with good jobs and schools nearby.

To find these places, Money used our Best Places to Live data and analyzed 183,000 data points across nearly two thousand cities in the U.S., focusing on things like pet care facilities and parks within the city’s boundaries, the percent of people who live near those parks, and good weather. (You can check out the full methodology down below.)

Believe it or not, these places do exist! And they don’t need to cost you your life savings. Here are the 10 most cost-effective places to live if your family has a dog — and your dog is family.

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1. Wheat Ridge, Colorado

City of Wheat Ridge

Median Home Price: $446,000
Avg. High in July: 87° F
Avg. Low in January: 14° F
Number of pet care services: 67
Percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park: 85%

A quaint suburb in Colorado, Wheat Ridge is home to 32,000 residents and some very merry dogs.

The city shares a border with Denver — a capital city that’s so dog-friendly, it’s home to more dogs than children. A $10 Uber ride from Wheat Ridge brings you to over 300 dog-friendly hotels and restaurants in Denver, as noted on pet travel site, BringFido.

Back home in Wheat Ridge, dogs enjoy sizable yards thanks to ranch-style homes spread far apart, while their humans have access to 65 veterinarians, trainers, groomers, and kennels, all within a 9.5 square-mile area. That comes out to more pet care services per household than any other city on our list.

There’s also plenty of opportunity for dogs to socialize at Fruitdale Park, where dogs can run around off-leash in a two-acre fenced in grassy area. Most of the parks in the city are connected by the Wheat Ridge Greenbelt: a section of the 20-mile Clear Creek Trail, which runs from the foot of the Rockies to just north of Denver. It’s open to dogs, as well as hikers and bikers.

A majority of adults here live a fairly healthy lifestyle, which is just as good for dogs as it is for their humans. Like much of Colorado, Wheat Ridge does get cold, with an average low of 14 degrees in January. But with only 18 inches of rain a year and minimal humidity in the summers, going outside won’t be insufferable for your furry four-legged friend.

2. Downers Grove, Illinois

Median Home Price: $289,000
Avg. High in July: 87° F
Avg. Low in January: 14° F
Percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park: 85%
Number of pet care services: 50

If you and your pooch are looking for an affordable home in the suburbs of Chicago, search no further. Homes in Downers Grove, IL sold for a median $289,000 between January and March of 2020. And it’s certainly not for a lack of running ground.

During the day, you and your dog can take advantage of nearly 1,200 parks within 15 miles of the city’s boundaries, for a total of 2,800 square miles of parkland — more than any other city on our list. It has 50 pet care services, including Happy Dog Barkery on Main Street, where the dog-loving owners sell handmade natural treats, pet foods, and dog gifts. They deliver, but your dog can also join you in-store, where she might even be greeted by one of the adoptable dogs being fostered by the shop’s owners.

To recharge, head down the street to Ballydoyle Irish Pub & Restaurant or a little further up north to Brick House, and eat and drink with your dog in tow, thanks to patios and staff that welcome your four-legged friend with open arms and water bowls. A thirty-minute drive northeast gets you to the heart of Chicago, where your dog can enjoy more restaurants, tens of dog parks, and even get some retail therapy. At The Shops at North Bridge, dogs aren’t just welcome, they’re treated right: “Pet Comfort Stations” on the first and second floor offer waste bags, treats, and fresh water.

3. Rockville, Maryland

City of Rockville

Median Home Price: $502,000
Avg. High in July: 85° F
Avg. Low in January: 24° F
Number of pet care services: 44
Percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park: 94%

Compared to some of our other dog-forward places, Rockville is a fairly big and wealthy city, home to 67,000 residents with a median household income of about $90,000. It’s also a dog’s dream come true, since she almost never has to leave your side.

About 90% of Rockville’s population lives in an area considered to have above average walkability when compared to the rest of the cities Money analyzed. The Carl Henn Millennium Trail — a dog-friendly paved walkway that makes a 10.7-mile loop around the city — probably helps with that. A wide variety of restaurants, ranging from barbecue to Spanish tapas, allow dogs on their premises, according to Yelp. And a whopping 94% of the population has to walk 10 minutes or less to get to a park.

It’s also easy to escape the city and enjoy the great outdoors, given Rockville sits within 15 miles of over 30 state and national parks. One of the closest is the 6,300-acre Seneca State Park: It’s 15 minutes away from the city by car and costs $3 a person if you’re a Maryland resident (or $5 if you’re from out-of-state). Your dogs can join you on 50 miles of hiking trails or splash around to their heart’s content in some of Seneca Creek State Park’s swimming holes.

4. Helena, Montana

Median Home Price: $149,000
Avg. High in July: 83° F
Avg. Low in January: 10° F
Number of pet care services: 56
Percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park: 88%

As the state capital of Big Sky Country, Helena has the wide open spaces that dogs love and the amenities you’ll need, all at an affordable cost.

The city has 56 veterinarians, groomers, kennels, and trainers serving over 30,000 residents — that’s second only to our number one place in terms of amenities per household. Montana also has a 0% sales tax rate, which only makes buying those extra treats and toys extra satisfying. And in the first quarter of 2020, the homes here sold for a median $149,000, which is well below the national median ($266,000).

The average commute time, meanwhile, is only about 14 minutes, which means residents have plenty of time to spend with their four-legged friends outside of work hours and errands.

And there’s no shortage of activities to do with them.

Dogs are welcome in many of Montana’s state parks, and can enjoy most of the restaurants, breweries, and cafes with outdoor areas. After a burger and a beer downtown, you can take your dog to Paw Park, where there are benches, a separate area for big and small dogs, and a total of two acres to run around off-leash. It’s also surrounded by trails for some quality one-on-one time.

5. Tigard, Oregon

City of Tigard

Median Home Price: $441,000
Avg. High in July: 79° F
Avg. Low in January: 34° F
Number of pet care services: 63
Percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park: 70%

Where else can you find a craft beer tasting room attached to a room of adoptable dogs?

Tigard is a suburb of Portland and an outdoorsy Oregon town through and through. It has 16 miles of paved trails and 550 acres of park and open spaces. Most of the parks are open to dogs as long as they’re on a leash, but Tigard also has three off-leash dog parks: Summerlake within Summerlake City Park, Ash Avenue, and (the largest) Potso.

At Fido’s Tap House, you’ll be greeted by a sign that reads, “Eat. Drink. Adopt!” Enjoy 40 rotating craft beers, wines, and ciders or grab a pizza for $12 to $18 — and then hop into the next room to play with rescue pups just waiting to be adopted. Five minutes away, in downtown Tigard, the streets are walkable and filled with even more dog-friendly restaurants and venues, like Max’s Fanno Creek Brew Pub.

Homes here sold for a median $441,000 in the first quarter of 2020, but a 0% state sales tax rate certainly helps with the daily expenses.

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6. Issaquah, Washington

Median Home Price: $594,000
Avg. High in July: 75° F
Avg. Low in January: 32° F
Number of pet care services: 53
Percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park: 92%

Issaquah, a town 20 miles east of Seattle, is a doggy delight. It’s nestled at the foothills of the Cascade mountain range, which means the city is filled with outdoorsy people and literally surrounded by state parks.

In the city limits, about 92% of Issaquah’s population lives within a 10-minute walk of a park, and the town is home to at least 15 pet-friendly restaurants on pet travel site BringFido.

The weather here stays moderate, with only 43 degrees difference between summer highs and winter lows, so dogs don’t need to recalibrate every season. And Washington’s state parks allow dogs (as long as they’re on a leash), which makes it that much more enviable to live here. The town is hugged by Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, Squak Mountain State Park, and Tiger Mountain State Forest, providing over 200 miles of trails between them. And to the north, Lake Sammamish State Park allows dogs on most of its 530 acres of picnic sites and campgrounds, overlooking a scenic body of water.

It’s not all green trees and wide open spaces, though. Issaquah is also home to Costco headquarters and has the best education score on our list, with a 95% graduation rate and a fifth of all test scores above the state average.

7. Asheville, North Carolina

Courtesy of Explore Asheville

Median Home Price: $328,000
Avg. High in July: 84° F
Avg. Low in January: 27° F
Number of pet care services: 155
Percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park: 39%

With 94,000 residents to its name, Asheville is the biggest city on our list by population and number of households, and it’s just brimming with dog-lovers. The city recently dubbed itself “Dog City, USA” and opened the country’s first ever Dog Welcome Center.

Asheville has 155 pet care services within its city boundaries and one restaurant per every 85 residents — more per capita than any other city on this list. At least 160 of those restaurants are pet friendly, according to pet travel site BringFido, but Twisted Laurel in Asheville’s walkable downtown area might take the cake.

The restaurant sits across from dog-friendly Pack Square Park, has a large dog-friendly patio and a fully fleshed out dog-friendly menu. Buy your pup a snack of celery and peanut butter for $4, an entree with choice of a protein and a veggie side for $10, and then make her day with a doggy dessert: ice cream for $4 a scoop, or freshly baked doggie treats for $5.

She’ll have plenty of opportunity to work it off, too. Like many of the cities on our list, Asheville is in close proximity to a mountain range — namely the Blue Ridge Mountains, where dogs can trek to waterfalls, cover ground on hiking trails, or splash around in watering holes.

8. Fitchburg, Wisconsin

Fitchburg Chamber Visitor & Business Bureau

Median Home Price: $282,000
Avg. High in July: 83° F
Avg. Low in January: 5° F
Number of pet care services: 35
Percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park: 91%

Fitchburg, WI is situated just south of Madison — Money’s best place to retire this year — and west of Lake Waubesa. It’s the smallest on our list by both population and number of households.

Its smallness has its perks, though. For one thing, it’s affordable: Homes cost a median $282,000 as of the first quarter of 2020 even though the median household income is a comfortable $73,000. Its size also makes it accessible, with about 91% of the population living within a 10-minute walk of a park. And while there are restaurants like The Thirsty Goat, where you can bring your dogs while you feast, Fitchburg’s charm can be found in the greenery in and around its city limits.

On a map, it’s a perfect square surrounded by blue lakes and green land. The county alone has seven sizable off-leash dog parks, and the heart of Fitchburg is only a 10-minute drive from three of them, for a total of 116 acres of off-leash grounds not too far away. One of the parks even has equipment to exercise and train your dog. And 22 minutes east, in Lake Kegonsa State Park, there’s a pet swim area with a pier to help them learn how to jump in — and then doggy paddle to their heart’s content.

9. Natick, Massachusetts

Adam Pulzetti

Median Home Price: $572,000
Avg. High in July: 84° F
Avg. Low in January: 16° F
Number of pet care services: 31
Percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park: 73%

For dog-lovers looking for the full package, Natick serves up the best of both worlds. It’s close enough to Boston to reap its economic benefits, collegiate education, and amenities, and far enough away to enjoy fresh air and access to Massachusetts’ wide open spaces.

Residents here experience good air quality for 339 days a year and live within a 15-mile radius of 27 state and national parks. Head to Cochituate State Park, located in Natick itself, for 1.5 miles of trail circling a cluster of ponds, and take a beautiful walk punctuated by a refreshing swim. In-state cars get a discount — park your car for $30 or pahk ya cah for $8. You can also take a day trip to any one of Massachusetts’ 20 state parks with off-leash areas.

It’s also a good place to go if investing in property is almost as important as loving your pooch. Homes are on the expensive side, selling for about $572,000 as of early 2020. But they’re up 14.3% from two years prior, and they’re selling fast: Natick scored higher than any other city on this list in terms of the percent of houses selling and its “hotness” index, which takes both supply and demand into account.

10. San Rafael, California

Median Home Price: $883,000
Avg. High in July: 81° F
Avg. Low in January: 41° F
Number of pet care services: 79
Percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park: 78%

If keeping you and your dog in a constant state of ecstasy is worth paying a little extra, head to San Rafael in northern California. It’s halfway between San Francisco and wine country and is home to 79 pet care services for its 59,000 residents.

The median price of a single-family home here was $883,000 as of the first quarter of the year — pricey, yes. But two- and three-bedroom houses can sell for less than $500,000, based on a recent Zillow search. And California is also one of two states on this list that was rated “Favorable” in terms of tax friendliness (the other one is No. 6, in Washington).

For the price range, you’ll get clear skies for 260 days out of the year, more primary care and mental health providers per capita than any other city on this list, and 17 state and national parks within a 15-mile radius. Only about 13% of residents here report not getting enough leisure physical activity and at 85 years old, the life expectancy in San Rafael is higher than almost any of the cities we analyzed — which speaks volumes about the quality of life you and your dog will live.

Temperatures stay California-steady, between 41 and 81 degrees, so you and your dog will get plenty of playtime outside, with a breathtaking backdrop. When it’s all said and done, the dog days will be minimal — and your dog’s days will be sublime.

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Methodology

To find Money’s Best Places To Live if You’re a Dog-Lover, we looked only at places with populations above 50,000. We eliminated any location that had more than double the national crime risk, less than 85% of its state’s median household income or a lack of racial diversity. This gave us 1,890 places.

We then collected about 183,000 different data points to help us pick our 10 winners. We considered data on each place’s housing market, economic health, cost of living, quality of life, mental and physical health factors, diversity, and amenities, all provided by research partner Witlytic. For a more in-depth look at the data we used, check out our 2020 Best Places to Live methodology. For our list of cities for dog-lovers, though, we put the greatest weight on amenities like parks and pet care services, which includes veterinarians, hospitals, pet care, training facilities, and kennels. We also focused on quality of life (namely the percent of the population that’s within a 10-minute walk of a park, annual precipitation, and highs in July) as well as cost of living.

Among the statistics called out here: Median home sale price reflects the first quarter of 2020 median from Attom Data. Average daily high in July and average daily low in January reflect temperature data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The percent near a park data reflects the population within a 10-minute walk of a park, as collected by ParkServe. And the number of pet care services reflects the number of veterinarians, pet hospitals, pet care, training facilities, and kennels using data gathered from the Small Business Administration, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Bureau of Labor Statistics, TomTom, Esri, and POI factory.