Years ago, when my Manhattan brother-in-law was single, he discovered the ultimate chick magnet: a dog.
It never failed. He'd simply take his Boston terrier, Ralph, for a walk in Central Park, sit down on a bench and wait for women to strike up a conversation about the so-ugly-he-was-adorable doggie. I don't know if he met his fiance, Carolyn, that way, but it wouldn't surprise me one little bit.
Now that ruse has been taken to some really creepy extremes. Flex Petz has brought the concept of rental to the canine world. That's right. For those of you too busy or irresponsible or just plain shallow and uncaring to give a full-time home to a dog, you can now rent a pet for hours, days or weeks.
It works like a time share. The company is currently in New York and Los Angeles with plans to expand to markets in San Francisco and Boston soon.
Members are charged a monthly fee of $279.95 and a surcharge of $45 a day for all doggy time in excess of four days per month. The company tries to put all sorts of positive spins on the situation. The dogs, they assure us, are all rescues (better FlexPetz than dead, right?) and the members receive training in the proper care of their rentals.
Forgive my cynicism, but I suspect the training consists mostly of demonstrating the ability to sign a check.
Here's what the Humane Society of the United States had to say: "The HSUS is critical of the concept of renting a pet for the day. ... Dogs form attachments to their families and instinctively learn to protect their packs. Frequent and abrupt changes in location, routine, discipline and attention are confusing and are likely to lead to stress-induced behavior problems. Dogs are not like cars or furniture. Moving them from person to person, home to home, can induce problems such as anxiety and depression."
This business model strikes me as so wrong on so many different levels. Living, sentient beings are not fashion accessories. I remember an old slogan, "A dog is for life, not for Christmas." Certainly a dog isn't for an afternoon, either.
Contrast Flex Petz with another Web site I came across recently: Dogs in Danger.com. It features pictures and descriptions of shelter dogs, and a countdown to when each one is scheduled to be euthanized. You can search by zip code.
Bingo is a 7-month-old border collie mix in Meriweather County. He's great with kids and other dogs but he hates goats. Unless someone does something, he'll be dead by April 22. Sadly, the site also has a lengthy "In Memorium" section for the dogs who weren't rescued in time.
If I had an extra $279.95 a month to throw around, it's a no-brainer as to who would get my money. I'd send some to Dogs in Danger and the balance to the Humane Society of Hall County. Charity -- and rescue -- begins at home.
And if I were a dog-lover whose schedule or lease or other lifestyle factors precluded full-time dog ownership, I'd give Rick Aiken at the Humane Society a call; they always need dog walkers, and I'd be in good company - no pretense, no superciliousness, no ostentation. Just animal lovers doing everything they can to make life better for homeless dogs.
Gandhi said, "The greatness of a nation and it's moral progress can be judged by the way it's animals are treated." I really don't think pimping puppies qualifies as moral progress.
(Originally published April 18, 2008 in the Gainesville Times)