Take your dog to Tampa, study advises, ranking region No. 1 in travel with pets

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As if Tampa Bay's beaches weren't enough to draw in tourists, a travel website has ranked the area as the No. 1 spot to take a vacation with your pet.

Yes, the Tampa-St.Petersburg-Clearwater region of the Sunshine State is considered the most pet-friendly city in the country, according to RewardExpert, which helps travelers use their points and miles to plan flights.

The group's researchers say they have the data to back up the claim: Tampa Bay has the most pet-friendly hotels per capita, as well as an above-average number of pet-friendly activities.

"You can really enjoy the city with your pet," said Kaja Olcott, spokeswoman with New York-based RewardExpert.

The group compared 53 of the largest metropolitan areas in the country and broke them down by pet needs, pet recreation and the city's profile. It released the data Tuesday in celebration of "National Pet Day."

Tampa Bay came out on top, largely for having 32 hotels allowing pets per every 100,000 residents, according to the analysis.

"That's where Tampa stuck out," Olcott said. "It's not just having somewhere you can go with your pet, but somewhere you can stay with your pet."

For pet owners who live to spoil their four-legged friends, St. Pete Beach's historic Don CeSar hotel offers gourmet room service for cats and dogs. The hotel even boasts a canine massage therapist. For the average traveler, Clearwater's Clarion Inn & Suites charges just $20 a night to bring along up to two pets weighing less than 70 pounds each.

And once a family — dog in tow — is settled in, they can head to one of the area's dozens of dog parks or to Honeymoon Island and the Davis Islands Dog Beach for a swim. They can grab a puppy ice cream at Dairy Joy in Tampa or a drink at The Dog Bar in St. Petersburg.

Pinellas County's Heritage Village welcomes pups, as does one of the Shell Key Shuttle's sunset cruises from St. Pete Beach. North Redington Beach's Sage Cafe serves dogs waffles, eggs and toast with peanut butter. (Oh, and food for people, too.)

The City Council in Tampa just approved a proposal for a dog park and bar in Seminole Heights. The pet love in Tampa Bay seems to be ever growing.

"It definitely lives up to the No. 1 ranking," said St. Petersbark pet shop owner Krista Schmidt, who has noticed more and more local restaurants offering pet-friendly patios for diners.

Schmidt, 31, moved to St. Petersburg from Atlanta, which ranked No. 5. She noticed St. Pete's dog-welcoming atmosphere right away. And when she travels, she realizes how often other cities don't match up.

San Francisco was named No. 2 because of its 15 dog-friendly beaches. Miami was next because of its high number of pet stores and pet-friendly eateries. Portland, Ore., was named the best city to play catch with pets and Pittsburgh the best for hiking with them.

RewardExpert measured each city by comparing the number of veterinarians, pet stores and pet-friendly activities and places per every 100,000 residents. The analysts pooled their data from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistic, Yelp and pet-focused websites like BringFido.com

Tampa Bay reigned supreme overall.

The Visit St. Petersburg-Clearwater website even has an entire page dedicated to traveling with a four-legged companion. It's used as a selling point: visitors won't have to leave their pets caged up in hotels room because there's so much they can do together in the area.

The tourism promoters make note the area's offerings make "traveling with a furry friend easy and luxurious."

"Most of my customers," Schmidt said, "especially those new to St. Pete and Tampa, mention how heavenly it is to live here because it's so dog friendly."

Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] Follow @sara_dinatale.

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