[first posted November 3, 2009]

Just when I thought public consciousness about dog care was being raised, with shows and articles devoted to avoiding puppy mills and promoting rescue, along comes the latest proof that popular culture is still clueless: Jokes about dog rental.

Case in point (and disappoint): A recent segment of one of my favorite NPR shows, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. Here’s a rough transcript of the conversation that took place between host Peter Sagal, regulars Mo Rocca and Tom Bodett, and special “What’s My Job” segment guest Susie Essman.

Susie: Mo is very close with my dog, by the way… we walk together. He even rented a dog so he could walk with me.

Mo: I can’t believe you told people that, but yes, and the only dog that was available was named Nixon.

Peter [sounding appalled]: How do you rent a dog?

Mo: Everyone’s doing it.

Peter: No, nobody is renting dogs!

Susie: People do it, because they want canine companionship and they don’t want the responsibility of a dog so they rent it for a weekend.

Tom: But that’s got to be a jaded dog, he’s known so many people.

Mo: He has trust issues, it’s true, but actually it’s great, you pick it up for a day and you go for a walk with somebody like Susie Essman and then drop it off.

Susie: Yes, we had a great time.

[lots of laughter throughout]

Listen to the entire October 17 segment — the dog rental part starts at about 6min, 15 second — here:

Ha, ha, ha. Trust issues. A dog referred to as “it.” Fun was had by all. (To his credit, Peter Sagal tried to put the issue into perspective, but it’s his job not to be a buzzkill.)

And then there’s the latest Jim Beam ad.

Again, ha, ha, ha: Puppy rental, dog rescue. Not to mention the amusing sexism. Guys don’t love puppies, only pussy.

But, you’re probably saying, this is all comic exaggeration. Dog rental isn’t widespread, is it?

Sadly, it is.

Rent-a-dog programs such as FlexPetz have become so common that people concerned about animal welfare are working to get them banned (they succeeded in Boston). If you have trouble getting your head around the problem with renting a pet — even aside from the enforced puppy prostitution issue — think how you would view its application to those too busy to raise a child full time.

Take, for example, this copy from the FlexPet’s FAQ section:

Are the dogs stressed by going home to home?

FLEXPETZ dogs live with one primary carer and their pack of FLEXPETZ dogs where they happily play and are never kenneled. When FLEXPETZ dogs visit with members it always full of fun time! Members plan for the time with a FLEXPETZ dog and the dogs are loved and adored with undivided attention.

What if it read like this?

FLEXKIDZ orphans live with one primary set of foster parents and their pack of FLEXKIDZ urchins where they happily play and are never locked into a room. When FLEXKIDZ visit with members it always full of fun time! Members plan for the time with a FLEXKIDZ child and the children are loved and adored with undivided attention.

The company claims that they work with trainers but I’d be hard pressed to believe any reputable trainer would go along with such a program. But maybe I’m just a humorless spoilsport. If any members of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers — especially certified (CPDT) members — or veterinary behaviorists disagree, I’d love to hear from them.

Update December 7: As Twitter pal Maryann Mott (@PetWriter) pointed out — and as a teeny notice on their website confirmed — FlexPetz is no longer operating. That’s thanks to the hard work and vigilance of people like Jo Jacques, a certified pet dog trainer and behavioral consultant who worked to get the company banned in Boston (see comments section). I did a search for the company that Mo Rocca and Susie Essman might have been referring to, and couldn’t find anything. That’s confusing — but good. The more difficult it is to rent dogs, the better.

7 thoughts on “What’s So Funny About Pet Rental? Nothing!”

  1. Hey, Edie,

    I was one of the founders of CPR-Pets, a group formed to stop FlexPetz from operating in Massachusetts. We managed to use a Home Rule to ban them in Boston itself, and then the Governor signed the ban into law for the entire state in late July, 2008. This action was supported by the ASPCA, the MSPCA, American Humane, and the AVSAB. The UK has banned them, as well.

    We have statements from Dr. Patricia McConnell, Pat Miller, and many others opposing the service. We also had statements from kennel workers for the FlexPetz organization outlining the behaviors seen by the ‘rental dogs’, including OCD circling and one dog who chewed off it’s own tail in-between rental sessions.

    The person who founded FlexPetz, Simon Brodie, is a convicted con man in the UK. He was given a ‘cease and desist’ order in CA after trying to franchise his ‘non-allergic pets’ scheme. He’s also the man behind the $22,000.00 “new breed” of “Ashera Cat” that turned out to be Savannah’s purchased from a breeder (proven by DNA evidence when he tried to export a pair of them).

    Interestingly enough, Brodie has now taken the name Carradan and is selling $20,000.00 skis from the same office as the FlexPetz operations in Montana… once a con man, always a con man, I guess.

    1. Thanks for that background, Jo. That Brodie/Carradan sounds like quite a sleazebag! Did you see the note on the FlexPetz site that seems to suggest it was all just a big misunderstanding.

      Thanks too for putting up a comment. I am currently reconstructing the month of November on my blog after a tech fiasco so it’s great to know I’m back in business!

  2. Thanks for highlighting this issue. It amazes me what people will do to impress others and what lengths people will go to avoid responsibility. What else can be done to put a halt to this practice?

  3. Brodie and his partner, Marlena Cervantes, announced to Time Magazine that they were shelving the whole idea until after the first of the year because our campaign, along with campaigns in CA and NY, were making it so difficult to get clients. He also announced last week that he was getting out of the non-allergic pet business as of the first of the year. Personally, I trust Brodie about as far as I can throw him — if he can get money out of people for something, he’ll do it.

    If you want to do something to keep it at bay, set up a Google news search to see if there are any plans in YOUR area. If there are, you can contact CPRPets at aol dot com (I spelled it out so that it wasn’t grabbed by spammers) for information on how to start a full-fledged campaign to have it outlawed in your state/community. Our group started out with only two members, grew to about 12, and we got it pushed through as law… if we could do it, you can too.

    1. Good ideas, Jo. I think too that people can email/call advertisers that perpetuate the idea that pet rental is okay — like Jim Beam (sadly the commercial is already wildly popular on YouTube). I sent a Tweet to Peter Sagal mentioning that pet rental was a bad thing after the episode of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me ran, but since he doesn’t follow me it was tough to get the word out.

      I guess blogging about it and making people aware of the issue helps. Most people really don’t know pet rental exists, or understand just how damaging it is for the dogs.

  4. I just wanted to say how I liked this! I was goofing off on some different forums when I found your website. After spending some time on this weblog I’ve come up with some good ideas for my weblog. I just thought I’d let you in on it

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *