Some people buy time-shares in condos, others in canines. Yes, pet sharing--once the province solely of divorced couples--is giving free-market forces a scratch behind the ears. The nation's first rent-a-pup store opened its doors six months ago in San Diego when FlexPetz started rescuing dogs from animal shelters and renting them out for as little as a few hours or as long as a week. The company is doing so well it opened a branch in Los Angeles in June, and will be in San Francisco and New York City by September.
But while many shelters think the business plan is a win-win for time-pressed humans and dogs that would otherwise be homeless or euthanized, opponents say pet sharing is morally irresponsible and traumatic for animals that get passed around among temporary owners. "Dogs are a lifetime friend and companion, not a two-hour piece of rental equipment," says Michael Markarian, executive vice president of the Humane Society of the U.S., which encourages busy canine lovers to volunteer at shelters or hospitals instead.
FlexPetz founder Marlena Cervantes counters that the firm safeguards its animals through customer screening and mandatory training. "We are giving these pets an opportunity to be taken care of," she says. And with $700 in annual fees, plus $25 per weekday rental and $40 per day on the weekend, these pets don't come cheap. But that hasn't kept animal lovers from ponying up.