What do millennials want? From marketers to employers to entertainment executives, that's the question on everyone's mind. And while we don't have all the answers (yet), there's one thing we know for sure: Millennials are crazy about their dogs, and they're willing to invest in living spaces that are best for them.
A recent survey by SunTrust Mortgage found that a third of millennial homeowners cited needing more space for their dogs, ahead of spouses or children, as reasons for their decision to buy.
We spoke to three millennial dog parents, both renters and homeowners, and learned a lot about how—and why—this generation prioritizes their pooches over, well, just about everything.
Tess, an L.A.-based writer and comedian, has moved twice in the past ten years — in part to accommodate her dogs. "Someone[…]told me about 'the funniest-looking dog they had ever seen,' who was being overlooked at the shelter," she recalls, referring to her first dog, Gatsby. "I decided, the second I heard that sentence, to adopt him. It was the best impulsive decision I ever made."
Tess wasn't fazed in the least by the fact that her apartment didn't allow pets—she just gave her 30 days notice and moved on. And she agrees that millennials' devotion to their dogs is off the charts. "Maybe because millennials are having kids later or not at all and [our dogs] are our family," she says. "People would never move somewhere that didn't allow their son or daughter, so why should we be prohibited from living somewhere because of these family members?"
It's true. As millennials have delayed or foregone having kids, they've surpassed boomers as the largest pet-parent segment in the country. And they're seriously involved parents, too: In a 2014 Wakefield survey, 76% of millennials claimed they'd rather "splurge" on their pets than treat themselves, and nearly 80% of all respondents said they consider their pet to be a member of their family.
Or, in some cases, family-to-be.
Ariana, a Boston-based data and research manager, didn't even have a dog when she and her husband started looking for a home to buy — but wanting one was among the biggest factors. "On a scale of 1 to 10, it was a 25," she says. "My top requirement for a house was a fenced-in yard that was big enough for a larger dog."
If it sounds like Ariana calls the dog-related shots in the family, she definitely does. "Before we were even engaged, I had told him, 'you have a say in all decisions except when it comes to me having a dog,'" she recalls.
Ariana agrees with Tess about dogs being top priorities for her generation. "People are treating dogs less like pets and more like family members," she says, "so choosing a home based upon a pet makes perfect sense."
Another contributing factor, says Ariana, may have to do with the increased interest in animal adoption, which has been on the rise. If you want to rescue a dog, the adoption process often involves a home visit from a volunteer—which means having the right home is key. "[It] means we need to be more proactive when we are looking for apartments or houses," says Ariana.
Mandy, an elementary school teacher in Alberta, Canada, is a longtime dog lover whose commitment to pet parenthood is equally evident: Her dog, Gambit, has his very own room in the house. In fact, the entire home was vetted with Gambit's needs in mind.
In addition to plenty of fenced-in outdoor space, "we needed to be able to train[…]inside because of notoriously long Canadian winters," says Mandy, an accomplished clicker trainer who's taught Gambit an impressive array of tricks.
"People make big decisions with their loved ones in mind," Mandy says, when asked about her reasons for making Gambit so central to her choices. "My parents had my brother and me; my husband and I have our pets. Families as priorities haven't changed, but the families themselves have."
Ideally, as the world catches up to millennial dog-love, the availability of pet-friendly rentals and homes will only grow. A few years ago, after Tess and Gatsby had welcomed a boyfriend named Sean (human) and a second fur child named Buddy (Labrador mix), they moved again—this time finding a small rental house with a large yard where the landlords were like-minded animal lovers who also rescued dogs. Sounds like a forever home for all involved.
No matter what, one common thread seems to unite millennials across geography and lifestyle: Our dogs are our family, and we prioritize and spend on them like we would for any other family member.
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