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Pet Rentals Allow for Dog and Cat Companionship by the Hour

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Pet rental is a growing trend in the ever-growing pet industry. They say it’s better to own than to rent. But with pets – as with homes – not all of us can manage it. Perhaps you’re away on business much of the time and can’t give a dog the care and attention it needs and deserves; or maybe your spouse doesn’t share your love of animals; or maybe you’re just not ready to make a permanent commitment to the care of a dog. Until recently, you had no options. But now, thanks to the spirit of entrepreneurship, your fortunes have changed. Welcome to the world of pet rental.

In 2007, Marlena Cervantes, a former behavioral therapist from San Diego, founded FlexPetz, a company that provides its customers with the companionship of a dog but without the commitment and responsibilities of ownership. FlexPetz members pay a one-time fee of $150, a monthly charge of $49.95, an annual maintenance charge of $99.95, and a Daily Doggy Time charge of $24.95 ($39.95 for weekends). And in return, they enjoy the companionship of a healthy, properly trained and socialized dog for a minimum of two days per month. Originally operating only in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas, FlexPetz opened a branch in New York and has plans to expand to San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Phoenix, Boston, and Washington, D.C.

A new trend

Although FlexPetz is the most well known of the rent-a-pet services, it is not the only one. The concept seems to be catching on. Many hotels and resorts around the world provide dog rentals as an extra service for those guests whose holidays would not be complete without some canine companionship. In some Asian cities, where dog-friendly housing is rare, dog-rental services fill a previously untapped demand.

Rental debate

The arguments in favor of the concept are easy to grasp: why should anyone who loves dogs enough to pay for their companionship be denied the chance? The animals that provide this service have the benefit of high-quality veterinary care and training. Dogs who might otherwise languish in shelters without the benefit of interaction with people are, in effect, provided with foster homes. But not everyone is enthusiastic about the idea. Opponents argue that a dog is not a piece of property, like a car, and that shuttling a dog from one part-time home to another denies him the chance to form the kind of stable, permanent bond that every dog needs. Some even argue that the practice may induce separation anxiety in the rented animals.

While the jury is still out on the psychological effects on dogs of moving from home to home, the people who avail themselves of these services are enthusiastic. The FlexPetz New York office signed up more than 100 members in its first two weeks of operation.

‘There ought to be a law’

The idea of renting a pet has so outraged some that in Massachusetts, two members of the state legislature, upon learning of plans by FlexPetz to do business in their state, recently introduced a bill that would prohibit the practice of pet rental. With limited exceptions, the proposed law states that “No person shall engage in the business of leasing or renting dogs and cats.” Violation of the statute would be punishable by a fine ranging from $100-$500. In remarks quoted in the Worcester Telegram, one of the sponsors of the bill – and a dog owner himself – Rep. Paul K. Frost (R-Mass.) said, “I know what kind of bond there is with a dog. You don’t rent out members of your family.”

Questions to ask

If you think that a dog-rental service might be right for you, here are some points to bear in mind:

  • Is the expense really worth the reward? For no cost at all, you can volunteer at a local animal shelter and spend quality time with a stray that could use some love.
  • Are you going to become too attached to your part-time dog and feel a sense of loss when its visit is over?
  • How well trained will the dog be? What if it chews up your sofa? Be sure you know the terms you’re agreeing to.
  • What exactly are you looking for in a part-time pet? A hiking companion, a playmate for the kids, or a bundle of fur to curl up with in front of the fireplace?
  • Does the rental service provide you with any training in dog handling and care?

Whether dog rental is just a passing fad or is on the verge of becoming a must-have for the busy urban professional remains to be seen. But there can be no doubt about it: The human desire for a canine connection remains as strong as ever.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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