Next up Flexi Kids August 6, 2008Posted by Marie in Gripes.
The Time-Share Dog
Monica Had 2 Families,
2 Names, Much Love;
Boston Bans Short Pooch Leases
By ANJALI ATHAVALEY
August 5, 2008; Page A1
Penny De Los Santos wanted a dog but traveled too much to care for one full time. So, she opted for the next best thing: a time-share pet.
For two years, Ms. Santos shared a mellow female Husky mix with her neighbors, who took the dog for about one week a month. They split veterinary bills and the cost of vaccinations and heartworm pills. The neighbors called the dog Nika. Ms. Santos preferred the name Monica.
"It’s kind of like Monica had two lives with two families," says the 39-year-old photographer in Austin, Texas.
About a year ago, Ms. Santos and her neighbors agreed that Ms. Santos was finally in a position to take full responsibility for Monica. The neighbors retain visiting rights.
For years, lots of dog lovers have gone without the companionship of man’s best friend because, for one reason or another, they felt they couldn’t keep a pet. Now, some are getting around obstacles by sharing ownership. And to meet that growing demand, pet-lending services are proliferating. For travelers, some locations of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, a subsidiary of Fairmont Raffles Hotels International Inc., and Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., a subsidiary of Marriott International Inc., are offering guests the chance to take out resident dogs for hours at a time. Some animal shelters let dog lovers swing by and take a pooch out for a day.
Short-term pet leasing, specifically, has drawn criticism that the practice frays the traditional bond between man and dog. "From a social standpoint, it’s very hard on the animal," says Bonnie Beaver, professor at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine, in College Station, and a past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Dogs could develop abnormal behaviors such as obsessive licking and whining. Also, the practice "can make them more leery of people," Dr. Beaver says.
Asensia Inc. in Big Sky, Mont., tried to capitalize on demand for shared ownership of pets with its Flexpetz service, which was launched last year, with locations in New York, London, San Diego and Los Angeles. Flexpetz members have taken dogs out for short periods of time for a $100 monthly membership fee, plus $45 a day.
Lawmakers and animal-rights groups were quick to pounce, complaining that Flexpetz was promoting dogs as accessories. To prevent the company from opening up shop in Boston, the City Council there early last month unanimously passed an ordinance that prohibits the renting of dogs. The Massachusetts legislature passed a similar bill last month, which has yet to be signed by the governor. State Rep. Paul Frost, a Republican who introduced the bill, has two dogs — Snickers and Reeses.
"They are members of the family, and you do have a special bond with them," he says. Dogs, he says, "react better to an environment where they have stability."
Asensia two weeks ago said it is shelving the Flexpetz service in the U.S. and London, "until we can get a better understanding on how this legislation may affect future growth," Chief Executive Marlena Cervantes said in an email. Flexpetz dogs, which live in day care when they aren’t being taken out by their temporary owners, will be adopted by members, she added.
Critics are more tolerant of informal pet-sharing arrangements among friends and neighbors. "It’s not a profit-making enterprise," says Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, "and there are smaller numbers of people involved in the animal’s life."
People who have participated in dog shares say it’s important to set rules from the beginning. Betsy Bunn, 69, and her husband, Franklin, share ownership of Jimmi, a 2-year-old puggle, with their neighbors two houses down in Auburndale, Mass. They agreed from the start to split all dog-related costs. Jimmi’s two families try to give him a regular schedule. Each morning, he takes a walk with Ms. Bunn and spends his days with either of the two families, depending on who is free to take care of him. He sleeps at the neighbors’ house every night and eats the same chow in both homes.
The families have agreed to not give him table scraps, in order to discourage begging at the table. And both of the owners’ phone numbers are on Jimmi’s tag, in case of emergency. "Jimmi has two houses," says Ms. Bunn, a retired hospice social worker. "He’s more fortunate than most of us."
The perks of dog-sharing for humans are also clear. People who may want to share or borrow a dog are mostly motivated by the short-term companionship it provides, says Herb Nieburg, a psychologist in Stonington, Conn., who has written a book on pet loss. Some people may even think they are doing something altruistic by devoting their time to an animal — even if it’s temporary. "It makes you feel good about the world around you," he says. "It may be a short bond, but it’s a real bond."
Spending time with a dog can be a stress reliever. D. Scott Farmer, a 55-year-old tax adviser from Denver, often stays at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver on business trips. He often takes out the hotel’s K-9 Ambassadors, yellow Labs Mavis and Beau, for hour-long walks at a nearby park and along the sea wall. Occasionally, he lets them off the leash so they can play. "It’s sanity time," he says. "It’s very relaxing. It energizes you."
Staying in Touch
For those who just can’t bear to part with their part-time pet, some dog-lending services have come up with creative solutions. At Fairmont hotels in Quebec City, Boston and Vancouver, resident dogs have their own email addresses so that they are available for correspondence afterward. Rita Fortin stayed at the Fairmont in Quebec City in May with her husband while on vacation and was so taken with Santol, Fairmont’s ambassador dog, that she contacted him afterward. "We’ve shared emails, and he’s gorgeous," says Ms. Fortin, 65, a part-time nurse in Bay City, Mich.
"It’s wonderful that you can live there," she wrote to Santol. She received a response through email: "I’m glad I got to meet you." (A Fairmont spokesman says the concierge or another hotel staffer usually answers emails addressed to the K-9 Ambassadors — and tries to write them from the dogs’ perspective.)
Popular pooches in existing dog-lending programs are often booked solid. At the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, in Beaver Creek, Colo., resident yellow Lab Bachelor is booked for dates with guests up to a month in advance. The Aspen Animal Shelter in Colorado, which allows tourists to take out dogs for a day, says it has to turn people away in the summer.
A short-term spark between man and dog can lead to a long-term friendship. In early July, while on a bus in Aspen, vacationers David Skibell, 67, and his wife, Rochelle, 66, noticed a woman with a border collie mix. The woman told them she had taken out the dog — Sophia — for a day from the Aspen Animal Shelter.
The couple took Sophia out the next day and expected to return her before the shelter closed. Instead, they fell in love and decided to adopt her. Sophia was shipped to Houston immediately and was renamed Aspen Belle, since the couple met her on a bus going to the Maroon Bells, a mountain in Colorado. "I never thought we’d have another dog," says Mr. Skibell, an orthodontist. "We really just thought it would be a nice thing to do to give the dog an outing."
Write to Anjali Athavaley at firstname.lastname@example.org