For over two years Americans have continuously grappled with the unprecedented economic and social uncertainties brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. While each individual was forced to face their own unique trials and challenges, many sought to cope with the ongoing isolation in a similar fashion: pets and companionship. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 23 million American households have welcomed new pets into their homes, nearly 1 in every 5 nationwide. As a result, American pet ownership has reached an all-time high, with household ownership rates exceeding 70% for the first time in U.S. history. This extraordinary surge in animal ownership has been accompanied by a significant uptick in pet-related spending. In 2020 alone, total pet spending in the U.S. reached nearly $84 billion, a 6.8% increase from the previous year, with expenditures on pet food, training, supplies, veterinary expenses, and more all experiencing considerable increases.
The remote nature of the pandemic had Americans not only spending more time with their pets, but more money on them as well. However, as Americans continue to navigate their way through the pandemic and toward a return to “normalcy”, social and professional obligations which have been absent from American life since early 2020 have begun to weigh heavily on recently adopted pets, as well as the bank accounts of their owners. A steady return to life in person has led many pet owners to seek out businesses, friends, and family members to care for their pets during working hours to ensure that they are not left alone throughout the day. The financial and logistical difficulties of pet ownership post-pandemic have left millions of Americans in precarious position, with some, unfortunately, electing to forgo their commitment to their pandemic companion in exchange for additional flexibilities. Pet ownership is a responsibility millions of Americans navigated for decades prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the post-pandemic world certainly presents a plethora of obstacles to new pet owners, an ever-evolving pet-care industry is suited to assist. Below are examples of a few ways the legal field is helping to ease and improve pet ownership:
An Evolving Veterinary Landscape
Just as American pet ownership rates have seen a substantial increase since the start of the pandemic, so too have nationwide revenues in veterinary medicine. In 2020 alone, the veterinary industry saw an increase in national spending of more than 14%. The national average salary of veterinarians also saw a substantial increase of more than 5%, a stark contrast to many other professions over that period. Thus, the state of veterinary medicine is quite excellent, despite recent industry-wide obstacles such as clinical staffing shortages and COVID-related facility access limitations.
What does the state of the veterinary industry mean for pet owners? As the veterinary industry continues to grow, so too does level of service pet owners will experience. Across the country veterinary practices are being purchased, sold, and merged at record-breaking rates. These transactions often result in a more efficient and resourceful veterinary practice suited to better serve the individual and their pet. The parties playing the role of the buyer in many of these transactions tend to be larger companies with plentiful resources. After the transaction has been completed, the resulting veterinary clinic is often larger, more resource abundant, allowing veterinarians to focus on treatment of patients while management responsibilities are handled at the higher level. The beneficiary of this industry trend is not only the veterinarian, but the American consumer and pet itself, who will steady begin to experience a veterinary field better suited to meet the demands of the post-pandemic, pet-heavy market.
Increasing Landlord Lenience
Pet-related restrictions in the rental real estate markets have limited many new owners’ living mobility in a significant way. Pet-friendly housing can prove scarce in many areas of the country, an issue which the Humane Society has estimated to lead to nearly 500,000 pet surrenders each year. Even when many rental housing providers claim “pet friendly,” further restrictions on weight, breed, and age of the animal can result in the exclusion of the majority of otherwise eligible owners. The recent surge of American pet ownership has only further exacerbated this dilemma, with pet-friendliness ranking in the top 3 of rental amenity searches since 2020. The good news is that recent trends in the rental market are moving in favor of our four-legged friends. The Human Animal Bond Research Institute recently found that 83% of real estate owners reported pet-friendly vacancies are filled faster, and that residents in pet-friendly housing tend to remain 21% longer than those in housing that does not allow pets. “Individual apartment landlords are more agreeable to allowing tenants to have pets just to get tenants to rent their apartments,” said one prominent New York real estate agent.
While pet-friendly housing is trending in favor of pet-owners, renters should still expect their pets to affect the renting/leasing process in considerable ways. Indeed, a pet is likely to become part of leasing agreement, as many landlords will request a higher monthly multiple in security deposits from prospective renters accompanied by pets. While one to one and one-half monthly rent is typical in most residential leases, pet-owners should not be surprised by two, or in some cases even three times monthly rent is requested in security deposit at signing. Additionally, lease addendum permitting pets are also quite common. These are addition terms which attach to a lease agreement, and typically include a list of specific pets permitted in the rented space, pet vaccination requirements, liability provisions, and other rules and restrictions relating the pet’s occupancy of the property. These pet addendums are worth examining thoroughly, as owners will want to ensure that information contained therein is accurate and not overly cumbersome to the pet’s living situation.