Pets can be rented for the weekend |

Pets can be rented for the weekend

Denise Flaim
Vail, CO Colorado

The FlexPetz are here.

This fledgling “shared dog ownership concept,” which rents well-behaved Fidos to the dog-less in San Diego and Los Angeles, is now ready to take Manhattan. The company quietly has launched its New York operation and there are more than 80 people on its waiting list.

FlexPetz is aimed at those who don’t have the time or the lifestyle to take care of a dog full time, or who are unsure whether a particular breed is for them. “Almost like a try before you buy,” says FlexPetz founder Marlena Cervantes.

Not surprisingly, this dial-a-dog convenience comes at a price: There’s a one-time $150 orientation session with a trainer, an annual administration fee of $99.95, a monthly membership fee of $49.95 and daily rates as high as $39.95 for Fridays and weekend days.

Cervantes says most FlexPetz dogs have been given up by their owners. Labradors seem to do the best, though her Web site features two Afghan hounds ” a breed known for its aloofness. Perhaps that’s because FlexPetz isn’t just about interaction ” it’s about image.

“If you think you get stopped on the street walking one Afghan, imagine what it’s like when you walk two of them!” it says, triumphantly.

Of course, there are those who think renting may be fine for cars or tuxedos, but dogs are sentient beings that, like children, crave stability and routine. They want to belong to a stable pack, and they want a leader.

“I don’t think it objectifies the dog,” Cervantes says, noting that each dog has a “primary home” ” either a cageless doggie day care or a trainer who offers boarding. He or she also has a “primary owner” ” a member who rents them most frequently, and no more than two other members who are in on the time-share.

“When they do go out for the weekend, it’s like going out with a favorite aunt or uncle,” Cervantes explains.

If FlexPetz has a mirror image, it is Rent-A-Pet, started three years ago by Randy Grim, founder of Stray Rescue of St. Louis.

“One night I was lying in bed wide awake at 2 a.m., thinking about how we can get our 200 dogs adopted, and also how to help them adjust, because many of them have never seen the inside of a house,” Grim says.

And so he dreamed up Rent-A-Pet: Pick up your shelter dog Friday afternoon and drop him off on Sunday night or Monday morning.

Rent-a-Pet doesn’t cost anything, but it requires a serious time investment. Volunteers are assigned “homework”: Get your dog used to the sound of a vacuum. Take him for his first car ride. Teach her how to climb stairs. A behaviorist and an obedience trainer are on stand-by in case of roadblocks.

FlexPetz’s dogs all range from 2 to 3 years old, and Cervantes says she expects to see a “constant rotation” as members decide to take the plunge and adopt their dogs-for-hire.

Grim’s scruffy street dogs, by contrast, are all ages and sizes. Some are missing eyes or patches of hair. More than a thousand dogs have been adopted as a result of Rent-A-Pet, Grim says, and the program has cut back on returns by 80 percent.

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