Erin Brock of Sebastopol washes her three year-old Great Pyrenees, Ell at Village Pets in Santa Rosa, Wednesday Jan. 23, 2013. California ranks 43rd in the U.S. for pet ownership. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

California lags behind much of U.S. in pet ownership

As a professional "telepathic animal counselor," Mary Borie can sense when things seem off.

Walking her dog at Spring Lake in Santa Rosa, Borie found it "odd" that the American Veterinary Medical Association ranked California 43rd in the nation for the percentage of households that have pets.

"This state is pro-animal," Borie protested.

That's especially true in Sonoma County, where animals can chill at their own resorts, receive acupuncture for stress and shop local boutiques for clothes, food and accents for their abodes.

Two national pet store chains have opened stores in Santa Rosa since September. At Unleashed by Petco, which debuted a month ago next door to Whole Foods on Yulupa Avenue, people can buy organic and holistic foods for their pets and scrub them squeaky clean at a self-serve wash.

All that may simply mean Californians shower their pets with love and affection. Because when it comes to the rate of pet ownership, the state apparently is in the doghouse.

Just shy of 53 percent of California households had a pet on Dec. 31, 2011, when the American Veterinary Medical Association conducted its national survey. Only seven other states had lower rates of pet ownership.

Vermont was tops, with 70.8 percent of households reporting owning a pet.

The data reflects 15 species of animals, everything from an iguana to a Chihuahua.

California ranked 40th overall for dog ownership, with 32.8 percent of households reportedly having a canine. Arkansas led the category, with 47.9 percent of homes having a dog.

California also ranked 40th in the nation for cat ownership, with 28.3 percent of households reporting having a feline. Vermont was tops for cats, with 49.5 percent of households having one.

However, California, the most populous state in the union, had the most total cats of any state and the second most number of dogs, behind Texas.

The survey was based on 50,347 e-mailed questionnaires. The results were included in the 2012 edition of the U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, which was released earlier this year.

The data about California surprised many in Sonoma County's animal-welfare network.

"I would not have guessed that," said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which is based in Cotati.

The organization ranked California third in the nation last year for having strong animal protection laws. That includes Proposition 2, the so-called Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, which California voters overwhelmingly supported in 2008.

"It's obvious that as a state we care deeply about animals," Wells said.

Debbi DeBruin sees that in her job at Western Farm Center in Santa Rosa.

"Even chickens are pets," she said.

One can only speculate why California ranked so low in the survey. Among the theories is that it reflects the number of people who rent homes here and thus have a more difficult time owning a pet.

In Sonoma County, nearly 41 percent of housing units were occupied by renters, according to 2011 Census data.

California also ranked third in the nation behind the District of Columbia and New York in the number of apartment-dwellers, according to a 2010 National Multi Housing Council report.

The veterinary association survey found that 66 percent of pet owners owned their homes. Pet owners also were overwhelmingly white (83 percent).

"I can see where California would not rank favorably. We have a very diverse makeup of citizens and a high population that rents," said Kiska Icard, executive director of the Sonoma Humane Society.

(You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or On Twitter @deadlinederek.)

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