Why Pets Are A Key Opportunity To Include In Your Business Plan

Aimee Gilbreath is the president of PetSmart Charities.

Many businesses and nonprofits would probably think about their products, services and missions and confidently say they have nothing to do with pets. I’m going to assert that most of them are wrong.

Why? Well, almost 70% of U.S. households include a pet, and 88% consider pets to be members of the family. Millennials are now the largest segment of pet parents. And while Americans were already passionate about pets, the pandemic has increased our fondness and appreciation for our furry friends. A 2021 survey by the ASPCA showed that almost 20% of American households (23 million) added a new pet to their family since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than ever, we’ve learned that pets make a positive impact on our lives. We need them as much as they need us. And I’ve found that’s especially the case for the most vulnerable human households.

Modern pet parents want housing, workplaces, products, services and experiences that recognize and integrate their animals. Put another way — if your workplace, rental housing community, restaurant, hotel or homeless or domestic violence shelter does not accommodate pets, a substantial segment of potential clients (or employees) won’t feel welcome and may even choose the competition. Pet parents experiencing homelessness would often rather stay out in the cold than separate from their beloved companions. Society benefits from the presence of pets in the places we live, work, play and get help when crises hit.

Since data often tells a story, consider the following:

• According to a recent survey, pet friendliness is second only to budget on the wish list when pet owners are looking for new rental housing, and it’s one of the things they are least likely to compromise on when making a selection.

• In another survey, nearly one in two Gen Zers and one in three Millennials said they would consider looking for another job post-pandemic if their workplace was not pet-friendly.

• Residents in pet-friendly units stayed 21% longer than in non-pet-friendly units according to one study.

On the other hand, if you’re designing products and services and spaces that include pets you can boost sales, increase customer engagement and gain the trust of people in need of help and services. Corporations from coffee chains to resorts have created pet-inclusive cultures and make a serious impression on social media (for example, #puppiccino clocks in at 180K posts at the time of writing).

Research also shows that pets are great for our physical and mental health. Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a hormone related to stress) and lower blood pressure. Pet owners experience reduced loneliness and increased feelings of social support, in addition to a boost to their mood.

It is because of these benefits of the human-animal bond that service providers in the nonprofit world would be wise to incorporate pets to take the best possible care of vulnerable humans. As I shared recently, many victims of domestic violence will delay or avoid seeking safety if they can’t bring along a beloved pet. The same goes for people experiencing homelessness, with “exclusion of pets from shelters and housing options” being one of the most common barriers to housing among unsheltered homeless adults.

While some human service organizations have recognized the importance of keeping families and pets together in times of crisis, it’s sadly not yet the norm. Many leaders may fear that adding pets to their programs will add complexity, chaos or cost — but those who try often find that the concerns do not materialize and that the mental state and outcomes of clients improve.

If you would like to integrate pets into your workplace, shelter or place of business, there are plenty of resources to help you get started, and you can also consider consulting with experts. It is important to develop a plan for the process. Here are a few key tips:

Consider partnering with a local animal welfare group. Building pet program capacity takes time and expertise — blending your organization’s knowledge of human needs with input from a local pet professional can get you there faster.

Survey your customers and employees to determine their interest and any potential concerns in developing a pet-inclusive policy.

Create a task force including pet parents and non-pet parents to agree on protocols around behavior, safety and cleanliness.

Creating a pet-inclusive culture can point to a strategic alliance with your organization’s values, employees, donors, customers and community. The return on the investment is likely a positive one, but the smiles, hugs and wags are priceless.

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