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Dr. CHRIS DUKE: Rent a pet is latest California trend

I swear I'm not making this up.

Apparently, some people think that image is everything, and that renting a pet of a certain breed for a certain amount of time can improve their quality of life. At least, that's the view of Flexpetz, a new membership-only club in California that rents dogs to members (www.flexpetz.com).

In the May 2007 issue of the trade journal Veterinary Forum, the subject of this new service was featured in the News Brief section. Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB, a veterinary behaviorist in St. Louis, Mo., said the program reflects how society views pets today.

"Pets have often become family and special companions, but there are many obligations -- providing appropriate care, socialization, welfare, a predictable routine, health care -- that go with having a pet." On the surface, this company could be filling an emotional need for people who would like animal companionship but can't own a dog.

"But it also has to be good for the dog," Horowitz said. She does have a concern that different environments may challenge how a given dog is equipped to handle it.

According to a company release, Flexpetz dogs are screened for temperament, and are trained to AKC Canine Good Citizen standards. Members can take these dogs for a few hours to a few days. The six dogs in the current program reside in cage-free doggy day care centers when not with a member, and these dogs either go home with a staff member or a staff member stays at the center with the dogs at night, according to Lauren Walen, a Flexpetz spokesperson. In addition, the company is "identifying and training additional dogs to join the Flexpetz family as other location and membership demands increase."

Flexpetz requires a monthly membership fee of $39.95, with a yearly commitment, registration charges of $289, daily charges when dogs are taken out and late fees if the dog is not returned on time. A single dog might be placed with three to six households a month. Already, there has been a trend seen where some members request certain "favorite" dogs for repeat outings, and that is acceptable with Flexpetz.

The Flexpetz folks claim that the dogs get comprehensive health screens every six months, and that old or sick dogs will be offered to members for adoption. How do I think this new fledgling enterprise will pan out? Time will tell. Maybe I'm a bit old fashioned, but I believe once pets are acclimated to a household, they need to stay there, if at all possible. By the same token, I believe that owners find the pet experience truly more enjoyable if a more permanent relationship is established.

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