So it’s time I addressed a high-profile pet welfare issue that’s been knocking around uncomfortably in my head for a couple of weeks now: FlexPetz. Have you heard of it? It’s a service for pet-loving people without the time or the inclination to care for a pet round-the-clock. A thorough contemplation of such a service’s implications is enough to give this vet a whopping headache. 

When I first read of it (a splashy, full-color Associated Press piece in The Miami Herald), I was more sanguine on its prospects, believing it would at least give some otherwise-lonely pound pups some effective socialization and an injection of exercise into their dull routines. In the article, a UC Davis-trained veterinary behaviorist even gifted the service with an optimistic quote, suggesting the dogs would not be traumatized by the round-robin of owners and would doubtless benefit from getting out more.

The expert consensus reported was generally positive, explaining that some potential pet owners are incapable of properly caring for an animal full-time. How could we as a society deny them their right to a pet if they, too, desired one’s company? Moreover, if this service reduces the return-to-shelter rate for newbie owners unable to fulfill commitments to their adoptees, renting a dog for a couple of days a week is, on balance, a good thing.

Swayed momentarily by the full-color glory of an attractive female CEO and the plugs from satisfied customers, it didn’t take me long to arrive at another conclusion. Do pet commitment-phobes deserve to “rent” animals as if they were property to be traded on an open market for their company? It’s an escort-service for pets—they’re effectively pimping out these animals to line their pockets with funds gleaned from what most of us would consider questionable pet owners.

Deeper concerns surfaced when I read (on of the takeover as FlexPetz CEO of one Simon Brodie, a Brit with an accounting fraud scandal under his belt and a penchant for animal-based ventures. Since hopping the pond for the US, he’s been mired in more controversy. You might remember him for his role in Allerca, the hypoallergenic cat company.

It’s true that I can come up with a vet theme for just about any animal welfare story, but this one’s rife with so many animal welfare considerations I just don’t know where to start. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) just launched their offensive against the company, citing concern for the well being of these animals-for-hire.

For my part, I’ll just add my 2 cents by saying that what I fear most from services like FlexPetz is their potential impact on a culture that needs no more incentives to treat pets as disposable property. The relationship with a pet should be one enhanced by the challenges of lifelong attachment. It’s anathema to my concept of pets to consider a service that allows minimally responsible owners to divorce themselves from the love of an animal as easily as they might cancel a magazine subscription. 

BTW, the dog pictured at the head of the post is for rent. Let FlexPetz know if you're interested.