Pets for Rent?

11 years ago

When I was a kid I begged constantly for a dog. Both of my parents worked, and they told me it wasn't possible. "We don't have the time or the energy to give an animal. It wouldn't be fair to it," my mother would say, smartly ignoring my whining and claims that I was the most underprivileged, dogless child in all the land.

When I moved out on my own, the first thing I did, me of no boundaries and even less time, was get a dog - a puppy, no less. He ruled my life in no time. Of course I fell in love with him, as tiny and perfect and affectionate as he was, but his needs were way over my head. We failed puppy kindergarten together, or so I was told by the pet behaviorist who worked there. I lacked boundaries, she said. I was not asserting myself as the alpha, she said. And finally, after several months of crying when he had an accident in the apartment again (NOT HIS FAULT. You gotta go, you gotta go. So what if that big human person is in the shower?) and building my single person/student schedule around his every bodily function and need, I did what any bright, totally together person would do. I got another dog.

He needed company, I told myself. He shouldn't be alone when I was at school and work, even though I came home whenever I could. An older dog would do the trick. She'd be a good example, she'd be calmer. This time, she was a rescue, a five year old Boston who'd lived in a crate for her entire life as a breeder, was food aggressive, and, contrary to what the elderly home breeder/puppy mill runner told me, was not at all potty trained.

This is where the "bright and well-adjusted" thing is supposed to kick in, right? Let's just say that by the end of that first glorious year, I was able to tell my mother, not for the first or last time, of course, that she was right. This dog business was a big deal. And although I wouldn't have ever traded my dogs or what they've taught me, it was difficult, and not always the best for them either, I'd imagine, although they were fed and loved and had Champagne medical care on my grad school beer budget.

I am therefore the first to say that owning a pet is a serious commitment, given that the five-month-old, three-pound hellion who started fights with the labs at puppy school is upstairs, an old man of 12, waiting patiently for his nighttime medication. But for those who feel that all they can give a pet is part-time love and attention, but still want the occasional rewards of spending time with an animal that they can "sort of" call their own, FlexPetz claims it has the answer. The following comes from their Website:

FLEXPETZ is a shared dog ownership concept that provides our members with access to a variety of FLEXPETZ dogs. All FLEXPETZ dogs complete obedience training and some FLEXPETZ dogs are also certified as therapy dogs.

Through the FLEXPETZ shared dog ownership concept, members can spend from just a few hours to a number of days with each of our dogs. FLEXPETZ dogs are available in varied breed sizes to ensure compatibility with our member's individual lifestyles and unique circumstances.

cmFLEXPETZ_narrowweb__300x448,0 (Photo of Marlena Cervantes, the founder of FlexPetz, with two of the service's dogs, Loki (right) and Jackpot., courtesy AP, photographer Chris Park)

All of this caring and sharing is clearly not for the weak of wallet. Membership costs $49.95 a month, which is reported to contribute towards care for the dogs, on top of an "Annual Account Maintenance charge" of $99.95, plus a fee of $150.00 payable at registration for a mandatory one hour introduction session with a trainer. The "Daily Doggy Time" charge is $24.95 on a weekday, $39.95 on a weekend, plus tax. They throw in a free "Convenience Package" that includes a dog bed, bowls and a custom leash. For each night that you plan to keep a FLEXPETZ dog, they provide food. Pay up, and I guess you can hit the dog park or the couch, it's up to you.

The Humane Society of the United States officially opposes the practice.

The Humane Society of the United States is critical of the concept of renting a pet for the day. While it may be well intentioned, Flex Petz is not likely to benefit the overall welfare of the dogs they rent.

Dogs form attachments to their families and instinctively learn to protect their packs. Frequent and abrupt changes in location, routine, discipline and attention are confusing and are likely to lead to stress-induced behavior problems. Dogs are not like cars or furniture. Moving them from person to person, home to home, can induce problems such as anxiety and depression.

Flex Petz claims that

Where possible FLEXPETZ dogs are rescues or in urgent need of rehoming. Sometimes we have little or no history on a dog, which means spending lots of time and money to bring them back to a healthy state, both in body and mind.

All FLEXPETZ dogs go through a full training program, so they understand standard commands and are a joy to spend time with, either outdoors or indoors.

Take one of latest dogs, JACKPOT. A Labrador Retriever rescued from a shelter by a hard-working local rescue group, JACKPOT come to FLEXPETZ as a really happy and smart dog. But at the full vet check, we discovered kidney problems possibly linked to an acute stomach infection that kept JACKPOT underweight. Vet bills for the first week? $2,000.

Have you ever housed a rescue? It is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done, but also one of the most time-consuming, and its success depended on my total commitment to helping my five year old dog adjust to a new home, and my gently firm and (most important of all) consistent, expectation that she not relieve herself in my apartment. Had she moved from home to home, with different commands, environmental conditions, and training styles, I can't imagine how she would have adjusted. I don't think she would have.

FlexPetz is the topic of the week on Ark Animal Answers with Animal Expert Diana Guerrero.

Julia Kamysz Lane shares her serious concerns on Bark Magazine's Bark Blog.

According to the company’s Web site, “FlexPetz dogs receive regular ‘refresher’ training sessions with our certified dog trainers.” I imagine the poor dogs need it because of the lack of consistency from home to home. Most dogs thrive on routine and building a bond with their family. What happens when they grow old? Will they be retired and allowed to live in one permanent home?

FlexPetz also spins its service as a way to save shelter dogs and prevent other dogs from ending up there. Again, brilliant marketing, but if the dog’s history is unknown, is it wise to press this dog into such a service? Even the best-trained, physically healthy and temperamentally sound dog might be stressed under these circumstances.

Supriya Raman writes in "My Life Mantra" that "pet renting" is not the way to go.

Many shelters who are struggling with rescuing pets and managing them think this is a great idea and a win-win situation for the ‘eternally’ busy humans and the dogs that would otherwise be homeless or euthanized. Although it does sound like a sweet deal, what about the dogs? Aren’t dogs supposed to be a lifetime companion? Don’t they get emotionally attached with the people? At least all the dogs I’ve had are! Then what about their life, how confused they must be going home to home , people to people everyday. Simply like a foster child’s life. I think its quite morally irresponsible.

Dolittler, "a veterinary blog for pet lovers, vet voyeurs and the medically curious" written by Dr. Patty Khuly, calls the practice "pimping pets for profit," and has replaced her early support with clear criticism.

Swayed momentarily by the full-color glory of an attractive female CEO and the plugs from satisfied customers, it didn’t take me long to arrive at another conclusion. Do pet commitment-phobes deserve to “rent” animals as if they were property to be traded on an open market for their company? It’s an escort-service for pets—they’re effectively pimping out these animals to line their pockets with funds gleaned from what most of us would consider questionable pet owners.

Tammy Clark writes the Dog Blog for the Huntington, West Virginia Herald-Dispatch, and she thinks the service is "an awesome idea."

There are alot of people out there with busy schedules, or working odd hours, or living in rentals, etc., that truly love animals and miss having a pet in their lives. This is a great opportunity for them to enjoy some canine companionship when it's convenient to their schedule. It can also be a very valuable service, allowing people to "try-out" pet ownership without a long term commitment, therefore reducing the number of animals returned to the pound or neglected when their human isn't up to the responsibility of properly caring for a pet.

Fat Mammy Cat in Ireland, found through Irish Blogs, isn't so sure.

I'm only getting round to reading the Sunday papers now, but a small article in the Times left me scratching my head. I cannot decide if it is a good idea or just plain nuts...Seriously, I just don't know what to make of it. I often take Country Gay's dog with me for a gad about the park, so I understand the company issue, plus he enjoys it too-especially if there is water involved- so it's win win. But to hire a dog for weekends?
That said, I would like to hire a Clydesdale and ride him up down Grafton Street on a Saturday, looking for people with visible thongs and spitters. So far no dice, but I"ll find one eventually. I will wear leather, he will wear a silver breast plate and martingale.

And The Sob Sister is thoroughly opposed.

So, I got to thinking about why this idea filled me with such unease and revulsion. And then it struck me. These dogs are not pets. They are not companion animals. They are not non-human dependents.
They are doggie whores.
They are doggie whores being pimped out by this Cervantes woman to people who don't seem to have any problem severing any normal, human desire for attachment to an animal, to people who just want one night's roll in the grass with a disoriented dog who'll pretend to love them, to people who are used to treating things, animals, children as accessories to wear to the park to attract other similarly-loveless individuals.

Shefaly Yogendra writes from another viewpoint - business and class- on her blog, La Vie Quotidienne in a post called "Are Dogs Like Holiday Homes"

For most rabid (sorry!) dog lovers, ‘a dog is for life, not for Christmas’ is not just a slogan; it is a principle and a way of life, which prevents them from keeping a pet dog unless they can care for it well all the time. It is worth seeing how their life’s commitments and the tug of dog-love at their hearts balance themselves out, because therein lies the profit opportunity for Flexpetz. I can immediately think of a few people I know, who will jump for joy at this opportunity.

Predictably Flexpetz was present at a pre-Oscar luxury suite to introduce the concept to Hollywood’s glitterati. A dog as a lifestyle accessory? I am not sure how many dog lovers will agree with that, especially since it evokes the memories of Paris Hilton’s handbag dog which may have popularised the concept of ‘dog as accessory’.

Is this going to create a class-system in dog world? The pampered pooches versus the doggone doggies? Flexpetz’s website suggests that they may be interested in rescuing or re-homing dogs but there is no clear information about how that may happen.

Of all the things that amaze and perplex me daily, the weird and wonderful ways of fellow human beings easily top the list.

As copycat business models go, with my cynic’s hat on, I cannot help but wonder about the possibilities. When we can have shared ownership of the man’s best friend, what is to say it cannot be extended to other friendships and relationships? What will be the next season’s accessory - a weekend grandparent to tell us WW-II stories?

Am I the only one uncomfortable with the concept of ’shared ownership’ of a living, breathing creature? What do you - especially if you are a dog lover - think?

Check out Pet Street Blog, the place for pets to meet, for another set of views from the UK, regarding what they call "the new fad for pet sharing in the States." reported that the CEO of the company owning FlexPets is Simon Brodie, convicted in the UK of several counts of accounting fraud, and behind many pet-related ventures, including the Allerca hypoallergenic cats, and an allegedly exotic breed called the Ashera.

The July AP story written by Lisa Leff about FlexPetz indicates that Marlena Cervantes "bristles when people refer to her five-month-old business as a rent-a-pet service. She prefers the term "shared pet ownership," explaining the concept is more akin to a vacation time share or a gym membership than a trip to the video store."

Thing is, a pet isn't an inanimate object - a condo, or a dvd. It's a living, breathing creature, and in cases of rescue or what FlexPetz calls "rehoming", a creature with some definite and pressing special needs. Money can buy some time, in this case, but it's usually more of that time, not less, that's needed.

Laurie White does not rent space at LaurieWrites, but feel free to drop on by.