Looking for a golden retriever, schnauzer or poodle to keep you company, but afraid of having to walk your dog in the rain or feed it while out of town? You're not alone, and now there may be a solution … for a price.
A small, but growing industry now allows want-to-be pet owners across the country to experience the joys of owning a pet, without the long-term, day-to-day hassles.
Earlier this year a San Diego-based company called FlexPetz started renting man's best friend for pet lovers who might want to take a dog on a long walk and maybe play a game of fetch, but don't have the time to own a pet full time.
The first store opened in San Diego in April, quickly followed by a second location in Los Angeles and then a New York store in September. FlexPetz founder Marlena Cervantes plans to expand her privately-owned company to several other cities, including San Francisco, Washington D.C., Seattle, London and Tokyo.
Consumers have long been able to partially own condominiums through timeshares. And in recent years, fractional jet ownership programs have ballooned and ZipCar has given city residents the opportunity to rent cars for just a few hours at a time. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before companies like FlexPetz provided the same concept for pets.
Cervantes came up with the idea of sharing dogs when she was working with autistic children. She first shared her own dog with the kids and then adopted two rescue dogs to share. The cost of keeping the dogs, however, became prohibitive. So she decided to turn the sharing idea into a business.
"In order to make this work, I would require financial contribution from the families I worked with," she said, "I didn't want to do that -- it was meant as a service."
FlexPetz offers different types of dogs in each location. The company conducts surveys to find out which dogs potential customers want. Larger breeds are popular on the west coast, while smaller dogs are in demand in New York.
FlexPetz members might as well get what they want for the hefty price they pay.
Members are charged a one-time-$150 initiation fee, followed by a $49.95 monthly membership fee for the right to limited visitation. But the fees don't end there. There's a $99.95 annual maintenance fee and, of course, the actual charge to rent the dog: $39.95 a day on weekends and $24.95 per day on weekdays.
The costs cover training and boarding the dogs, collar-sized GPS devices, vet bills, insurance and care kits that accompany the dog on visits to shared owners.
FlexPetz caters to consumers who live in urban areas and travel frequently. Members may enjoy the company of a dog, but don't have the space or time to take care of one full-time.
The service has proven itself to be a hot commodity in several urban markets. For instance, in New York, the office attracted more than 100 members in just its first two weeks.
San Diego-resident Erika Lupercio became a member earlier this year. Lupercio and her 12-year-old daughter live in a condominium with a balcony, but no front yard. They once adopted a pug, but after about five months, Lupercio had no time for the dog and couldn't keep her.
"I remember how heartbroken my daughter was," she said.
Now as a FlexPetz member, she and her daughter have fallen in love with Rupert, a black Afghan hound that they take on weekend walks in the park.