In 2008, a dog rental company called FlexPetz opened locations around the United States. Its popularity grew so quickly, it soon added 120 new branches, with the intent to spread from cities in California, all the way to London.
FlexPetz operated on a simple model: Rent a pet for a day or more (up to 3 months), return them when finished or choose to adopt. Customers could either pay a daily fee or monthly subscription and rent as much as they wanted.
The idea behind the business was to give people who otherwise weren’t able to have pets the opportunity to spend time with a dog. (Maybe they had an allergic partner, their apartment rental didn’t allow pets or they were simply lonely.)
Whatever the reason, the idea was pretty simple: Rent a pet, enjoy the day, rinse and repeat.
Why Pet Rental Companies Are a Bad Idea
On the surface, it’s hard to see what’s so terribly wrong with the idea.
After all, the pets being “rented” were said to have come from rescue shelters. Spending time with people and families, regardless of how odd the idea, meant they’d be getting the opportunity to be officially adopted.
The problem, however, lies below the surface: What happens when dogs become attached to people who rent them out for up to 90 days at a time? Or to the people who consistently rent the same dog, over and over, but only when it’s convenient for their schedules?
And if the business targets customers who otherwise can’t have dogs, what are the odds those dogs will end up actually being adopted?
If they’re never adopted yet constantly rented out, when will they ever have the chance to be taken in by a person or family who actually knows they want a dog — someone who isn’t going to return them at the end of the day?
If being passed around between homes multiple times per week and never forming a routine or bond with a single person sounds off-putting, you’d be right. Not only is it confusing for dogs, but it can also cause stress, anxiety and a host of other health problems.
The Current Status of Pet Rental Companies
If you’ve never heard of FlexPetz, it’s likely because their success was short-lived.
Animal rights groups were quick to point out the huge flaw in the company’s operations. Even government organizations started to take notice.
When FlexPetz was planning to open a new location in Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino placed a ban on pet rental companies in the city. Gov. Deval Patrick quickly followed with a statewide ban.
When the idea spread to London and Flexpetz was bringing interested customers on board, animal rights advocates across the pond were quick to criticize the practice there, too.
Today, FlexPetz is no longer dishing out dogs for entertainment. But that doesn’t mean the practice as a whole is kaput. Although you likely won’t find big companies touting their pet rental business model today, they’re still operating, even if under a slightly different disguise.
Cat cafes became popular in places like Taiwan and Japan, and eventually spread to the United States.
Some such cafes operate with full integrity at play.
Take The Dog Cafe in Los Angeles, a fully nonprofit coffee-shop-meets-animal-shelter, for instance. The Dog Cafe works with rescue centers in LA to find dogs at high risk of being euthanized — ones who often have health problems and have spent far too long in shelters.
Those dogs are brought to The Dog Cafe, where patrons pay $15 to interact with them.
The point? To adopt. The Dog Cafe takes no profit — all proceeds go straight back to the shelters they work with. That way, instead of the dogs working for them, they’re actively helping pets find long-term homes.
Unfortunately, not all pet cafes operate in the same manner. Take the Animal Cafe in Bangkok, for example, where customers can touch and hold raccoons, foxes, owls, monkeys and more. Clearly, the point there isn’t to introduce visitors to adoptable animals. Instead, it’s to give them an opportunity to take a great selfie.
According to the owners, the animals were all bred in captivity or “rescued.” One of their raccoons was apparently bought from a fur factory in Europe. The owners told The Straits Times that, after rescuing the animals, “We give them food. We give them a job. And we give them love.”
Do wild animals really need jobs, though? Of course not. And forcing them to “work” is a poor play on “rescuing them” from their past lives.
Check out this cat cafe in New York’s Lower East Side:
What to Do
Small pet rental companies still pop up across the map — typically when uninformed people think they’ve found their million-dollar idea. The practice exists in various forms.
If you think you’ve come across such a pet rental company making a profit off of (and likely mistreating) animals, contact your local humane society.
If you’re not sure who to reach out to, take a look at a state-by-state directory here. The more eyes, ears and voices supporting these animals, the more likely they are to receive the help of advocates who aren’t looking to exploit them for money.