Dog Rentals: A Good Deed or a Doggone Shame?

Dog rental companies let the renter experience what it's like to own a dog, while proponents and opponents of the idea debate the ethics of such entrepreneurship.

“Money may buy you a fine dog, but only love can make it wag its tail.” Kinky Friedman, former Texas gubernatorial candidate and self-proclaimed author, columnist, musician and beautician.

Most dog lovers would agree with that sentiment.  I know my heart was forever sealed the day at the Humane Society when I asked my dog, Nicky, if he wanted to come home with me, and in response, he put his paws on my shoulders and began kissing my face.  That was 10 years ago, and I can’t imagine life without him or a dog lover who would not, if circumstances allowed, choose to have a dog in their lives.

But now, it seems a new option exists for the dogless. Banned in Boston, but possibly coming to a city near you – Rent a Dog! The idea was formed when high end hostelries in the US, Europe and Japan began loaning out dogs as a way for travelers to have companionship away from home.

Operating in much the same way as a car rental – you choose the size, temperament (a sporting breed perhaps? or something more sedate), and duration (a couple hours romp in the park versus the overnight rental) – and the driving, er walking, pleasure is all yours with no worries about grooming, pet food costs or veterinary care.

Leading the way in the US is FlexPetz, the banned in Boston doggie rental.  With current locations in New York, San Diego, Los Angeles, and London, the company webpage announces plans to expand domestically into Seattle, Miami, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Phoenix, and West Palm Beach. The company says that where possible, FlexPetz dogs are rescue dogs or in urgent need of rehoming.  It also notes that it pays for training, veterinary expenses, including regular three months veterinary checks for all FlexPetz dogs, food and cage free shelter when the dogs are not out on rentals.  An interested dog renter must first register with FlexPetz, and if okayed by the company undergo a mandatory one hour session on training and handling a FlexPetz dog.

So who are the people that rent the dogs?  Some have had relocations from other countries or states and were unable to take their dog along when they moved.  A family might rent a dog to vacation with or a single might find it’s easier to met people accompanied by a dog.  Other people would love to be full-time dog owners but because they can’t give a dog enough time or they live in places that don’t allow pets, fill their need through renting.  Some have even lost beloved dogs and don’t feel able to commit to owning another animal.  Or someone might rent a specific breed before buying to see if it is a good match.  Most yearn for the companionship of a dog, and some will return time and time again to rent the same dog.

But, as critics charge, companionship doesn’t come cheap.  A monthly FlexPetz membership, which includes four one-day rentals, costs $279.95. In contrast is Rent-A-Pet, which allows people to rent dogs for free, but in return its members are expected to spend considerably more time with the dogs and are given assignments to expose the dogs to things like household sounds, riding in a car or climbing staircases. Rent-A-Pet dogs range in age from puppies to older dogs.  Some Rent-A-Pet dogs are described as being bit scruffy and bearing the signs of having lived on the street.

Given the cost and/or time involved, it seems obvious the people doing the renting must feel like they get something out of it.  But what about the dogs?

“Why would you need to rent a dog when you could walk a dog in a shelter in your community?” says Gary Patronek, director of animal welfare and protection at the Animal Rescue League of Boston.  Shelter dogs in Boston don red vests that say “Available for Adoption” and go on walks with volunteers.

Many others are also less than thrilled with the idea. The American Humane Society issued a statement saying “Pets are not like cars or furniture.  Moving them from person to person, home to home, can induce problems such as anxiety and depression.”  Dogs like children, it is thought, need routines and a stable environment in order to thrive. There is also the fear that rentals encourages people to treat dogs as a disposable accessory.  It may also make it very difficult for a rental dog to form bonds with humans.

Supporters point out that dog owners routinely hire others, such as dog walkers or pet sitters, to handle some of their dogs’ care needs with no ill effect to the dogs.  They also note that these are dogs that might have been euthanized under other circumstances, and that many rental dogs end up permanently adopted.  Rent-A-Pet reports that over 1,000 dogs have been adopted through their program.

What do you think?  Is this a humane alternative for dogs that would otherwise be homeless or possibly euthanized or is it one more example of how poorly we can treat our best friends?  I’d love to hear your views!

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