Thursday, 7 August 2008

Pet rentals, pet sharing and shelter walks: can part-time ownership work?

The Wall Street Journal featured an article the other day which seems to be something of a whistlestop tour of part-time pet ownership. Dogs Trust's feelings about dog rental (echoed by experts from the American Veterinary Medicine Association and the Humane Society) are well-documented. We feel it is thoroughly unfair and unsettling to a dog to be passed around from person to person. Dogs thrive in a stable, routine-driven environment, and they can develop nervous - even aggressive - behaviours if they are denied this stability.

But what about pet-sharing? Some people have got together with friends or neighbours to split the cost of owning a pet and share the time spent with them. This is almost certainly a step better than pet rental since the dog has a set routine (daily walks with one owner, for example, and a regular bed at the other, the same food and rules in both homes) and fewer people are involved. Isn't it a bit like just bonding with a very big family?

Mostly it is, and if all the people concerned are very consistent and the dog has a regular base, it will probably be more or less like having a dog that your mum takes care of while you're at work or your brother takes for his evening walk because they've bonded and enjoy the time together.

Still, though, there are questions over such arrangements. Unlike with an informal family agreement, there's a question of split costs here. What happens if one neighbour wants to take permanent ownership of the pooch because their circumstances have changed? Who 'owns' the dog? They've both paid for his vet bills, food, toys and insurance, so who has the 'right' to him? Suddenly a dog becomes thrust into a custody battle, and these can be terrible as any divorced couple deciding who gets the dog will tell you.

So what's the solution if you want the company of a dog but can't afford to own one or aren't sure you have the time? Get yourself down to your nearest centre! There are short and long-term residents at shelters and rehoming centres that need walks, socialisation and attention. They will relish every moment of company they get and will be glad to get to get to know a regular walker whom they are familiar with.

One family mentioned in the WSJ article went to help out a rescue dog and ended up so closely bonded with her that they adopted her. So it's not just a great way to be around dogs when you can't have one, it's also a good way to know for sure if you are ready to be a dog owner.

Foster caring is also a good way to help and can give a dog a longer-term sense of stability. If you cannot commit for years ahead but know that you can offer a home for, say, six months, you can take part in home-from-home fostering schemes for kennel-stressed dogs such as the ones run by Dogs Trust. If you also want to help a family in need, you can take part in our Freedom Project (London and Yorkshire) which provides care for the pets of families escaping domestic abuse, so that they can run without fear of their pets paying the price.

There are so many ways to get involved in a dog's life that don't require paying hundreds of pounds and putting a dog in a situation where its best interests are not really considered. Thousands of dogs are looking for a forever home and in the meantime you can give them a bit of extra comfort and TLC. Isn't that better than thinking up contracts or paying rental?
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