Swipe right to borrow my pet

It seems in 2018 there is nothing that cannot be obtained with the swipe of a smartphone or click of a mouse. The hustle and bustle of London and other large cities has led to the rise of the ‘gig-economy’ – app-driven services, odd jobs, and deliveries on-demand – seeing everything from food to cleaning to taxi services available at fingertips of the public. Whilst there is no doubt that almost everyone living in the capital taken advantage of the ‘gig-economy’ in some way to make their lives simpler and more enjoyable, the practice is not without its controversy. Food apps such as Deliveroo have seen complaints relating to missing and stolen food and late deliveries, whilst taxi app Uber has seen more serious complaints that are perhaps not best discussed in this feature.

So when the gig economy entered the pet world – with apps such as BorrowMyDoggy allowing those who have a busy lifestyle, live in rented accommodation, or simply cannot afford to own a pet to borrow someone else’s – it was bound to ruffle some feathers. At a time when people are increasingly seeking short-term satisfaction, there is concern that the concept of pet-borrowing may begin to compete with the time-honoured act of purchasing a pet for keeps, especially in cities where pet-friendly lets are becoming harder to find.

In the world of on-demand cabs and food, we’ve seen concerns raised by those in competition: they say the ‘gig economy’ drives customers elsewhere. Will prospective pet owners completely abandon the idea if they know they can easily borrow a companion for a desired amount of time, especially when pet-lending apps are specifically targeting busy pet owners who want to loan out their pet instead of paying for a dog-sitter or walker. The practice initially seems to make sense; those who cannot afford or are not able to have a pet can hire companionship on demand, while those who need a carer for their animal can get someone in. But what does the future look like if and when everyone wants the benefits of a pet without the commitment?

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Perhaps surprisingly, the Kennel Club is relatively supportive of this brave new world. Secretary Caroline Kisko says: “Owning a dog takes time and commitment – dogs are very social animals who love spending time with people. The Kennel Club recommends that dogs shouldn’t be left on their own for more than four hours at a time.” She describes dog owners at times faced with “dilemmas” where, due to circumstances out of their control, “they do need to leave their dogs longer than they would like”. The Kennel Club welcomes companies such as BorrowMyDoggy – Kisko says it has been “very successful in helping people find extra support in local areas to help with dog walking or sitting when needed”.

The RSPCA is marginally more cautious in its approach to the idea, but ultimately in favour. A spokesperson says they’d “urge people to meet a pet-sitter” before the loan happens, but says it is “important” that owners who for whatever reason cannot look after their dog for a period of time find a responsible carer. It recommends “introductory sessions” so that dog and borrower can “get used to each other”. Naturally, also, owners should leave “clear instructions as well as emergency contact details”.

BorrowMyDoggy founder Rikke Rosenlund rejects the idea that her company is a rental platform, preferring the term ‘borrow’ to describe what her company allows its members to do. Membership on BorrowMyDoggy costs £13 per year for borrowers and £45 per year for dog owners looking for a borrower. She says the company follows various steps to guarantee the safety of dogs, owners and borrowers, including verifying all prospective members, levying fees including all necessary insurance, and a 24/7 vet line provided by the company. Rosenlund says it can be used “even if the owner just wants to discuss the dog’s nutrition”.

She describes her business with a clear passion and excitement for the pet industry. The company gets to know its members and maintain a healthy community, and says that to ensure both owner and borrower are happy before the borrowing takes place, the pair always meet up at least once. “Some people meet up many times,” she says, “some people meet up few times”. Those borrowing are typically younger than the lenders, and are people who “want to have a dog, they’re just not in the place to have a dog right now”.

When asked if dog borrowing could overtake ownership in big cities where pet ownership is generally harder due to living arrangements, she says: “It’s the same across the country. I don’t think it will ever take over ownership of dogs, I just think its a way for people who don’t have a dog, to have one.” Often the borrowing/lending experience can have the effect of helping users “figure out what breed is the best one for their lifestyle” before they go on to commit to adopt or purchase, an important feature of the model, given that recent research by the PDSA found one in four UK owners buy their pet without doing any prior homework on the pet’s needs. Says Rosenlund: “It is based purely around the love of dogs and there really is nothing else to it.”

Purina Petcare research recently found 72 percent of owners claimed their dog cheered them up. Over half of dog owners surveyed said their dog made them feel less lonely and could help “someone else in need”. It also found 37 percent of owners thought their dog eased anxiety with 23 percent saying their dog made them feel more confident and raised their self esteem. The role of dogs in improving mental health was further reinforced when Pedigree announced its ‘Dog Dates’ scheme, which saw dog owners paired up with members of Melton Mowbray’s elderly community. The scheme aimed to “forge companionships” – as many as nine million people across the UK reported being lonely in a 2015 study by Holt-Lundstad, which found that chronic loneliness was as detrimental to health as smoking 15 cigarettes today.

“There are over eight million dogs in the UK, so we are focusing very much on dogs,” laughs Rosenlund when asked if the company plans to lend its services to any other pets. She explains that the company began when she looked after a brown Labrador belonging to a friend and she thought: “Why are people spending all this money on dog sitters or kennels, or leaving their dog home alone, when I would love to look after a dog?” Five years ago, she set up the website landing page and put up posters around Hampstead Heath to test the water on whether others shared her sentiments, and within three days 85 people had signed up. When the company started, Rosenlund says, its clientele varied from people having operations who needed a carer for their dog, through to a young girl who loved dogs but was still a little scared, leaving the parents unwilling to take on a dog full time in case they had to give it up. She explains the wide variety of members using the company’s services continues to this day. “I still don’t have a dog,” Rosenlund says, “I have borrowed one dog for a week, there was one dog I borrowed on occasional weekends when the owner needed to go away travelling, and at the moment I borrow one dog who comes into the office two or three times a week.”

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