10 tips to rent with Fluffy and Fido (© Solus-Veer/Corbis)

Trying to find a rental with a pet is enough to make you howl. It's exasperating, particularly if you have a dog that's bigger than Paris Hilton's handbag.

The knee-jerk "no pets" or "only dogs under 25 pounds" tag easily pops up on three-quarters of apartment listings. And those landlords who don't imagine Buddy as the Tasmanian Devil instead see dollar signs, tacking on extraneous fees and pet rents that can add $1,000 a year or more to the cost of housing.

Many renters just give up. Often citing moving as a reason, people drop off between 6 million and 8 million pets annually at U.S. shelters. Of those, a combined 3 million dogs and cats — 8,200 per day — are euthanized each year.

"It's devastating," says Allie Phillips, director of public policy for the American Humane Association. "These rules have consequences."

Read:  How pets can be a landlord's best friend

But there is good news. Attitudes — or at least circumstances — are shifting. Large apartment companies have made pet accommodations almost commonplace, and more independent managers are now considering giving it a try.

No better time for pet-loving renters
Some of the change in the approach to pets comes after years of landlord and tenant education efforts by animal groups, such The Humane Society of the United States’ Pets for Life program, or the Dumb Friends League’s Pets Are Welcome program, which offers Colorado landlords free behavioral assistance for their furry tenants.

But much is due to market forces. The number of American households that now include pets has climbed to 71.1 million, or 63%, with surveys estimating that between half and three-quarters of renters either have or want pets. Among pet owners, the largest chunk, 63%, own at least one dog.

Given the demand, apartment corporations have learned they can rent units more quickly and rake in more cash simply by allowing dogs and cats. When they're able to, big players such as Archstone and AIMCO (the Apartment and Investment Management Co.) will charge a $50 monthly pet rent and a $400 nonrefundable fee, on top of the extra security deposit. These property owners are praising their four-legged tenants all the way to the bank. (AIMCO reported a net income of $415 million in 2008.)

And independent owners, more interested in retaining tenants and less likely to charge such fees, have been increasingly opening their doors the last two years as they struggle with oversupply and high vacancy rates. Anything is better than letting a unit sit empty.

"It's never been a better time to be a pet owner and be in the market for an apartment," says Maurice Ortiz, marketing director for the Apartment People, an apartment brokerage in Chicago. "Managers are being extremely flexible."

But there's a big kink in the leash ahead. Market forces are tenuous: When the economy rebounds and those renters who are now doubling up with roommates increase the tenant pool, many independent managers could reverse course. It's simply easier not to deal with the extra hassle of pets.

Buddy may be your best friend (owners in one survey said that if stranded on an island they'd rather have their pet along than another person), but animals — unlike toddlers, college students, wannabe rock stars and other human apartment-dwellers — are not a protected class under fair housing laws (with the exception of animals that aid the disabled).

So while now is a great time to negotiate on behalf of you and your pet, do so wisely and with an eye to keeping the door open for the next guy and his dog.

"Even if you're an animal lover, you've got to look at it from the business side," says Cheryl Lang, founder of No Paws Left Behind, which finds homes for pets abandoned because of foreclosure. "You've got to have something in it for (landlords), or they're just not going to do it."

In the leasing business, that means demonstrating to owners that they can easily expand their pool of high-quality tenants by including those with pets. In fact, in what may be the only published study on the topic, a 2003 survey (.PDF file) by the Foundation for Interdisciplinary Research and Education Promoting Animal Welfare (FIREPAW) found that the average worst damage in apartments with pets totaled $430, an amount almost always covered by the regular security deposit and at least $100 less than the average damage in apartments with children.

But owners need to see it for themselves. So here are 10 tips to help prove your case:

1. Be a good pet owner
This should go without saying, but let's say it anyway. Before applying for an apartment, ask yourself if you know how to keep the cat from spraying and the dog from wailing in that home. Consult your local shelter for training classes (as low as $10) or use online resources, such as these guides at the Dumb Friends League. It's your job to provide the right care, attention and exercise.

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2. Sympathize with the owner's concerns
Apartments have different reasons for prohibiting pets. Some tenants might be allergic. Some owners might subscribe to the once-common sentiment that animals are dirty and belong outside. It's their property; you have to respect their position.

But other owners quit allowing pets after one or two bad experiences or have never allowed them (in the FIREPAW survey, 37% who didn't allow pets never had). They don't know how to screen for responsible pet tenants, or that it's even possible.

Many borrow gratuitous policies without even knowing why. Take the ubiquitous restriction by a dog's weight, which some mistakenly associate with temperament.

"For some reason, people tend to think that a small dog is going to cause a lot less damage and be a lot quieter than a large dog," says Ortiz, the apartment broker. "It's actually totally the opposite."

Even so, owners are legitimately concerned about their tenants and their property. Acknowledge that there are bad pet owners out there. Be sympathetic to their past problems. Then describe exactly how you've prevented such occurrences in the past.