Pets... the ultimate accessory?

Pets... the ultimate accessory?

What does pet-renting mean for the human-animal bond?
Nov 01, 2008

NATIONAL REPORT — In New York, a dapper bachelor could enlist a dog each Saturday to help him find his date for the night.

In Los Angeles, the latest "it" girl could bring a purse-sized dog to her red-carpet event.

In London, a traveling businessman could have a furry companion when he finds the time to be at home.

This is because, in some places, pets have joined apartments, cars, tuxedos and vacation homes in the realm of things that can be rented to fill human needs.

At a time when the strength of the human-animal bond is on the forefront, with doggy spas and gourmet animal foods in demand, it might be difficult for animal lovers to come to terms with rent-a-pet arrangements.

The veterinary profession may have additional concerns about public health, zoonotic disease transmission and, in the case of neighborly pet-sharing arrangements, dealing with multiple sets of pet owners.

Blogs on pet renting berate proponents as uncaring about the bond animals might form to their temporary owners and what might happen to the pets once they aren't a hot commodity anymore.

"As a concept, the renting out of pets for profit represents a new industrial use of pets," says Dr. Patricia Khuly, a Florida small-animal veterinarian, veterinary columnist and blogger.

"It trades on the idea that those with busy lives need not commit to an animal. In my view, it thereby underlines the disposability of pets in our culture — something we struggle against already, with our teeming shelters a visible reminder."

To counter the trend, Massachusetts recently banned pet lease or rental services, following Boston's example, and San Francisco is considering a similar ban.

Tales of neighbors sharing the care of one pet are becoming more common.

The Aspen Animal Shelter in Colorado allows residents and tourists take out dogs, free of charge, for a day around town. The Ritz-Carlton in Beaver Creek, Colo., has for the last six years had a dog-in-residence that greets guests in the lobby and occasionally accompanies them on hikes or stays in their rooms.

Commercial pet-renting has been popular for sometime overseas, specifically in Japan, where space limits the number of people who can keep canine companions.

In the last few years, a California-based shared pet ownership business, FlexPetz, sprouted up in Los Angeles and quickly spread to New York City and London. The business had planned to expand to other U.S. metropolitan areas and overseas in 2008, but reportedly put those plans on hold as it wages a battle against public opinion. Calls to existing FlexPetz branches and its corporate office were not answered.

But several veterinarians who focus on animal welfare and behavior issues say they don't see the harm in shared pet ownership agreements that are well-run and put the care of animals before the draw of the dollar.

"It has the potential to be abused. My first thought would be the public-health issues," says Dr. Lauren Keating, who serves on the American Veterinary Medical Association's Animal Welfare Committee. "How are these dogs screened? I think there'd be a huge liability for the business."

In the case of FlexPetz, dogs usually were rescued pets that underwent a strict training program and were given a full examination by a DVM every three months, according to the company's Web site. The company also interviewed customers and matched them with dogs for their personality. For a little less than $300 a month, FlexPetz members got four days of "doggy time," and the dogs were fitted with GPS tracking collars with temperature sensors and sent off with their temporary masters with pre-portioned containers of holistic chow.