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Massachusetts considers a ban on pet rentals

June 3, 2008 |  7:59 pm

Maryann Mott, who writes exclusively about pets for a variety of national publications, will be blogging at L.A. Unleashed from time to time. She lives in Arizona with K.C., a rescued Akita mix, and Sasha, an energetic 8-year-old Belgian sheepdog. You can see more of her work at petwriter.com.

Dog_walkingFlexPetz caused quite a stir last year after opening its dog renting business in New York, Los Angeles and London. Now animal welfare advocates in Boston are trying to stop the company for setting up shop in their state.

A hearing is scheduled Thursday on House Bill 4753, which would prevent commercial entities from leasing dogs or cats by the hour or day in Massachusetts. If passed, the bill would be the first such law in the country.

FlexPetz charges busy urbanites thousands of dollars in yearly fees for the ability to spend time with one of the dogs from their canine fleet of Afghan hounds, Labrador retrievers and Boston terriers.

According to an Associated Report in July, Marlena Cervantes, founder of FlexPetz, bristles when people refer to her five-month-old business as a rent-a-pet service. She prefers the term "shared pet ownership," explaining the concept is more akin to a vacation time share or a gym membership than a trip to the video store.

"Our members are responsible in that they realize full-time ownership is not an option for them and would be unfair to the dog," said Cervantes, 32, a behavioral therapist who got the idea while working with pets and autistic children. "It prevents dogs from being adopted and then returned to the shelter by people who realize it wasn't a good fit."

The company plans to open rental agencies later this year in Boston, Washington, D.C., and Paris. That's got some animal welfare advocates growling.

"FlexPetz sends a contrary message to the public making it socially acceptable to treat dogs as disposal commodities that can be rented for pleasure at their leisure," wrote Bryn Conklin of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to Cervantes in November.

"The MSPCA worries about the impact this message -- both in the short and long term -- will have on the pet owning public and the consequent lack of owner responsibility and commitment to a lifetime of care and concern for canine companions."

A better solution for busy dog lovers is to volunteer at a local animal shelter where they can walk and play with dogs as little or as much as their schedule allows. Not only does the interaction improve the lives of homeless dogs waiting to be adopted but it's absolutely free.

-- Maryann Mott

Photo: Robin Loznak /The News-Review / AP

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