At Denver Dog Works we train people how to become dog trainers. We train them to become the best dog trainers in the world in my opinion, and in doing so we teach our students how to think outside the box and defend their position on a variety of topics. This past week we were discussing Dog Law and I asked my students to search for an interesting story with a legal angle in regards to dogs. One of my students, Christena Pastoor, found an interesting article on renting dogs and we talked about it for the whole three hour session. I found it such an intriguing concept as did everyone in the room. I even posted the question on the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter and got an overwhelming response. So I decided it write about it on my blog and talk about it on my radio show this week, The Dog Doctor Radio Show heard weekly onwww.blogtalkradio.com/dogworks. I welcome your feedback and your comments because this is a topic that is worth exploring.
There was an article written in September by Kathy McManus on the Internet that has really peaked my interest. It was titled: Renting a Dog Barking Up the Wrong Tree? about a service that is offered in New York City, Los Angeles and London where you can “rent” a dog. Yes folk, renting your best…err…temporary friend. You can lease them by the day from a company called Flexpet.
While this is not a new concept as upscale hotels have lent dogs to guests over the years, Flexpet is making a business out of renting dogs. It is not cheap either. According to the company’s website there is a $99.00 administration charge, a $99.00 monthly membership fee, a mandatory $150.00 training fee and orientation lesson and then the customer can rent as many dog day afternoons as desired for a $45.00 fee for day.
Flexpet says that all of their dogs-many of which are from animal shelters-wear GPS tracking collars with temperature sensors and feed “holistic dog food” and all have stable temperaments and between two and five years old. But of course there are many critics over this practice as they see it as promotion of dogs as accessories. If you are a frequent listener of The Dog Doctor Radio Show we often talk about what we call “Paris Hilton Dogs” the small dogs that are carried in purses and adorned with bejeweled collars-of course no disrespect to Ms. Hilton-we see these dogs as more of a fashion accessory than a pet. I mean when did we decide as a society that we should carry our dogs around in handbags? What would our forbearers think from 20,000 years ago when we first added dogs to our lives?
Flexpet is not without controversy of course. The company is banned in Boston after the City Council passed an ordinance making dog letting illegal. “To rent a dog just seems wrong,” said one legislator. “I’m not for legislating morality, but it just seems like cruel and unusual treatment of a poor, defenseless animal.” In the editorial pages in Boston they took issue with what they saw as people “who want the comfort of a pet, but not the full-time responsibility.”
So just who rents a pet? I would assume people that travel a lot, people who live in apartment buildings or high-rises or places that do not allow pets, people that have family members who may not like dogs in the house or people like Sarah Stevenson who moved from the U.K. to New York. “It’s been difficult for me to meet people because everyone in New York just kind of goes about their business,” Stevenson lamented. But when she is out walking a rented pooch named Oliver, “It becomes a nice way to meet people.”
My trainer, Christena Pastoor had plenty to say about this subject. “In terms of legality I can see how municipalities would allow a dog rental business to operate as long as the company can sufficiently prove quality care of their dogs while at their facility and through a screening process of the renters and their homes.” Mrs. Pastoor, who researched Flexpet thoroughly for her project on Dog Law also said, “According to their (Flexpet) website , they provide vet checks every three months, fit every dog with a GPS collar and require all renters to attend mandatory training sessions before taking a dog.”
Of course there are other concerns than the legal ones. Dogs are pack animals that thrive on routine and security. Renting dogs to any number of people for short periods of time does not provide the consistency that they need to thrive. While Flexpet asserts that these dogs do not live in kennels and they stay with a primary caregiver when not being “rented” there is still a constant flux with different dogs at “home” and ever-changing renters. Dogs can become stressed when they do not have a consistent environment and behavior problems are likely to ensue.
According to Mrs. Pastoor, putting a cash value on time spent with a dog automatically makes the dog a commodity in the eye of the renter. It also creates the risk of the dog simply being viewed as an accessory. Dogs are living beings and should be valued as such, not as an accessory that makes people more noticeable.
Of course, many people cannot take the care of a dog on full-time, however there are many other positive outlets for fulfilling a person’s desire for canine companionship. Shelters and rescue organizations are in desperate need for people to walk dogs and spend time socializing them. All dogs in shelters can benefit dramatically from socialization, which may in turn help then find a new home. Fostering a dog is also an option. Many, if not all, shelters are filled to capacity and of course fostering takes a greater time commitment than renting, but it is not a “permanent dog”. Or if a person cannot find time to volunteer to foster, or work at a shelter, maybe they could find friends or neighbors who would be willing to have them spend quality time with their dog that they might not be able to give themselves. As you may know that the number one cause of behavior problems in dogs in lack of exercise and positive stimulation and that is why most dogs end up in a shelter situation in the first place.
I have a little bit of a different spin on it. Of course I love dogs. They are my passion and my livelihood and I cannot understand just how this business of renting dogs is not only morally irresponsible but financially irresponsible as well, but what about people that volunteer for programs such as Big Brothers or Big Sisters? I am sure they do that to “give back” or to enrich a young child’s life. But doesn’t that work the same if you are “renting” a dog? Also what about dogs that suffer from what I call “kennel craziness”, that is dogs that are in a kennel situation and through lack of positive stimulation or people contact begin to pace and bark and spin, very similar to people in correctional institutions. Even a psychologist counters that people that want to borrow a dog usually just want some companionship. “It may be a short bond,” he said, “but it’s a real bond.”
What do you think? Should people rent dogs? Written in conjunction with Christena Pastoor, Student at Denver Dog Works
Citation: Katy McManus’ 9/24/09 article: Renting a Dog: Barking Up the Wrong Tree?
Dr. Robert Forto is the training director for Denver Dog Works and The Ineka Project in Colorado. Dr. Forto also hosts The Dog Doctor Radio Show weekly from his training center. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website athttp://www.denverdogworks.com