Love on a Lease: Renting Man's Best Friend

"When he sees us he knows we're family," Lupercio said

Seeing Rupert on the weekends has allowed her to have a dog of her own without tying up her busy schedule.

"It takes the worry out of all the things you would worry about," she said.

Is This Ethical?

Some folks have a bone to pick with the idea of dog renting. Gale Buchwald, senior vice president of the ASPCA Pet Adoption Center and Mobile Clinic Program, said FlexPetz violates the human-animal bond.

"For an animal, a caretaker is more than a fun walk in the park," she said.

Buchwald said it's not healthy for dogs to live transient lifestyles and bounce between owners. She said dogs that don't form a strong bond with one family often end up becoming aloof and self destructive.

"I think it's great that they understand marketing, and I think it's great that they try to fulfill that need, but it's not good for the dog," Buchwald said.

Cervantes disagrees. She said her business takes precautions to ensure the safety and happiness of FlexPetz dogs.

"They're cared for better than a lot of dogs I've seen," she said. "This is a fantastic alternative to shelter life."

Cervantes said FlexPetz does not rent a dog to more than a couple members at a time. She said members are screened for animal-abuse violations before getting the go-ahead to rent dogs. New members must also complete a training session with certified dog trainers to learn how to become responsible pet owners.

Lupercio said everyone deserves a little quality time with a pet.

"It's a little unfair for people to not have the opportunity to own a pet, and this is a nice way of doing it," she said, "I feel like I'm being a more responsible pet owner by doing this and not leaving a dog at home alone."

"I was a bit leery at first, and I had my questions," she added, "But I'm definitely going to stay a member."

FlexPetz members are even given the option of eventually adopting their dog of choice.

A Taste of A Lifestyle

FlexPetz and other shared-ownership services tap into a market segment called the "transumer." These are consumers who want the taste of a certain lifestyle or experience. People with little time or space can stake a claim in pricey, high-maintenance items such as yachts, exotic cars and small planes for occasional use.

Tony LoGrande is managing director of Fitch New York, a global retail consultancy company that first coined the term "transumer" to describe the habits of customers who shop while in a state of transit.

"We have to wake up to the fact that many consumers are transient," LoGrande said. "There are lots of people who have to travel a great deal for a living."

LoGrande said transumer culture will only grow larger as the global economy expands. And as the number of transumers grows, so will the demand for shared-ownership services.

"Transumers are the new nomadic people. I think that is part of the future," he said. "People are exploring the world like they've never done before. And it necessitates them to be able to have the comforts and needs to be able to connect."

LoGrande welcomes the FlexPetz movement, saying the animals are better off spending time with loving members than confined to an animal shelter.

"By sharing a pet, you saved a pet's life," LoGrande said.

Cervantes said FlexPetz is different and disassociates it with the "transumer" movement.

"Our members," she said, "aren't in it for the fad or experience."

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