Rent a Dog?

NOT available for rental

Last week, I ranted about why I dislike puppy-themed corporate promotions, like the Puppy Bowl. I mentioned a new trend: “rent-a-puppy” apps and services. I don’t put these apps in the same category as Puppy Bowl and Uber Puppy, yet I am ambivalent about them.

I had a long email chat about these apps with a dog-loving but dogless friend. He works full time, lives alone, and does not have a dog because he does not feel that he could give the dog the attention and exercise the dog would need and deserve. An admirable, if lonely, choice.

We’d both read about Bark‘N’Borrow, an app (it’s not the only one … Borrow My Doggy is another) that allows dog-owning and dog-craving members to meet up and “rent” or share dogs.

I was going to write about these apps then, but I hadn’t made up my  mind  yet about what to say. I am still on that fence.

I am less ambivalent about Puppies for Rent, which is exactly what it sounds like: a rental agency for homeless puppies. They live in foster homes and can be booked, according to the website, up to a week in advance for rentals, until they are placed in permanent homes. Sounds too much like Uber Puppies for my liking. No thanks.

Why am I ambivalent about the borrow-a-dog apps? On one hand, if you do leave your dog alone a lot, the option of a regular, trusted person taking her out or hanging out with her could be appealing. Could be nice for the dog, too. And certainly I see the appeal for dog-deprived people like my friend. On another hand, it just felt wrong. Renting out your dog? Like a car or a spare bedroom? Weird.

On yet another hand, if you met the right person, it could solve your dog-sitting problems. On the other hand (I get four; we’re talking dogs, after all) what if something happened?

Maybe it’s not so different from hiring a dog walker or dog sitter. I have a great dog sitter whom I met through an online pet-sitter agency. I’d only hire a dog walker who had experience, insurance, and solid references — but it might be possible to find a person through Bark‘N’Borrow who met those criteria.

Media describing these apps talk about how good people feel when they get to interact with puppies and how nice it is for people who can’t have dogs to get to play with them. Sure, that’s all true. But does it justify the stress and potential harm to the puppies? In the case of the puppy rental, I’m pretty sure the answer is no. In the case of a loving owner who carefully selects one or two “borrowers” who might themselves develop strong bonds with the dog, if it is a dog like Cali who loves all humans …? Still not sure.

I have no good reason for my ambivalence other than the uncomfortable feeling that serving as wingman to find dates for my dog feels like crossing a line. Maybe I’m just not ready for the so-called sharing economy to include my family members. What do you think?

Paws Down on Puppy Promotions

worried puppyIt’s Super Bowl Sunday as I write this, and I am sure to rain on lots of people’s parades with what I am about to say.

Uber Puppies is a terrible idea.

Possibly piggybacking on Animal Planet’s annual Puppy Bowl, another bad idea that is really popular, Uber offers an occasional puppy delivery service. Both puppy-themed events occurred this week, amid lots of other festivities leading up to the Super Bowl.

Uber Puppies, for those who do not live in service areas (which, this week, were San Francisco, LA, Orange County, Calif., New York, Denver, and Washington, D.C.), brings a puppy to hang out with you, delivered by Uber. In the Bay Area, Uber worked with the SF SPCA and the Peninsula and Berkeley Humane Societies which, presumably, supplied the puppies. It was billed as promoting pet adoptions.

Uber marketed this venture the same way it promoted its other Super-Bowl-themed gimmicks, which included game-day delivery of wings and “backseat EA football tournaments,” whatever they are. The key difference here is that the other promotions didn’t exploit the irresistible cuteness of vulnerable living creatures.

Uber users could order a “puppy pack” for $30 and arrange delivery to a home or office. Yippee. A bunch of well-meaning people crowding around a scared, stressed-out puppy, thereby raising “awareness” of the need for pet adoptions from shelters. Is there anyone out there who’s likely to want a puppy delivery who’s not aware that shelters have lots of adoptable pets waiting for their forever homes? I didn’t think so.

On the same theme — I think the Puppy Bowl is also a terrible idea. I watched the first one and was disgusted, so I haven’t watched since. The puppies all looked terrified. I sometimes look at the promo clips and the highlights clips Animal Planet posts, and I see lots of scared puppies being encouraged to show very poor sportsmanship as they pick on other scared puppies. I know that people love watching it. And I know that it promotes adoption, but I also know that there are better ways to help homeless dogs.

Years of working with and studying dogs and puppies has taught me that awful or stressful experiences puppies have can shape their interactions with people and with other dogs for life. Flying dozens of puppies from all over the country to New York and then putting them together to play with other (unfamiliar) puppies in a strange, noisy place with with lots cameras, commotion, and unfamiliar humans pretty much defines “awful, stressful experience.” Most of these (shelter) puppies probably didn’t get ideal early-life socialization, either. We’re not exactly setting the puppies — or their future humans — up for success here.

See, I told you I was going to rain on your parade.

Just because people want to pet puppies or watch them playing on TV does not make these events a good idea, even if the goal is to “promote adoption.” Shelter puppies generally get adopted pretty quickly anyhow; it’s the adolescents and older adults who need the help.

Looking at the publicity for (and media coverage of) the Puppy Bowl and Uber Puppy, the events seem to be more about promoting corporate brands than about the welfare of the dogs involved or about helping dogs in general. I don’t like seeing puppies treated as things to be exploited for corporate gain, even if it’s ostensibly for a good cause. And I suspect, though I have no evidence, that the success of the first Puppy Bowls kick-started the commodification of puppies, now fully realized in Uber Puppies and a new trend: “rent-a-puppy” apps and services — the subject of next week’s post.