A CALIFORNIA company is offering an alternative for dog lovers whose lives are too busy or their homes too small to keep man s best friend around all the time: They can rent a canine companion for the afternoon. The firm, FlexPetz, has Californians suffering from pooch privation yelping in delight, but has anyone considered the impact on Fido?
Marlena Cervantes, the owner of FlexPetz, says emphatically that hers is not a rent-a-pet operation, likening it instead to a vacation time-share or a gym membership. For a fee (actually, an annual fee, monthly payment, and per-visit charge) that starts at nearly $175, a person who cannot keep a dog for whatever reason gets to take one home (or have it delivered) for a day with absolutely no leash attached. FlexPetz provides for all the doggie needs leashes, bowls, beds, food, vet bills, even liability insurance.
No one is denying the positive impact of a canine presence in one s life. Researchers say, for example, that people who have a pet live longer and happier lives, and programs that bring animals to nursing homes have been shown to have a positive effect on the residents of those facilities. Dogs and other animals have also been used effectively as part of the treatment for people with autism.
In all those cases, the dogs in question have stable home lives. Not so in the case of FlexPetz, where Lassie and Rover could find themselves in several homes each week. One wonders how they like being shunted from home to home.
Animal trainers, pet psychologists, dog whisperers, and owners of chewed-up shoes and pillows would agree that dogs sometimes suffer from acute feelings of abandonment. What sort of psychological screening is FlexPetz undertaking to make sure its animals do not develop anxiety disorders or self-worth issues as they are passed from client to client for a fee, simply for the entertainment and pleasure they provide?
And if the idea catches on, can FlexKids be far behind?
Seriously, however, many scientists are beginning to suggest that dogs, as well as other animals, may be smarter than previously believed. In fact, some researchers say canine IQ has increased over the millennia precisely because of their close association with humans. According to Parade magazine, dogs are skilled at reading human signals, can learn by observation, and, according to scientists in Brazil, can count.
What all that suggests to us is that perhaps humans should think twice about making them weekend toys.