Saturday, August 25th, 2007

I’ve been expecting someone to implement the Rent-a-pooch business model for a while now:

There are more than 44 million dog owners in the United States — and untold millions more dog-loving city dwellers who would enjoy having a pooch or two but don’t have the time or space to walk, groom, and clean up after them.

That’s the market Marlena Cervantes decided to tap when she founded Flexpetz, a groundbreaking dog-rental service that lets you bask in the unconditional love of man’s best friend without the trouble of having to care for it.

A dog owner and former behavioral therapist, Cervantes has experienced firsthand the positive effect that interacting with a dog can have on people with health problems, especially children. Many families, however, are unable to take on the added responsibility of dog owner-ship. Renting a well-behaved dog to those families seemed like an opportunity to spread joy – and make some money. So in March, Cervantes quit her job and launched Flexpetz in San Diego and Los Angeles. She has plans to expand her operation by opening branches in New York and San Francisco as well.

Rental and registration fees come to $120 per month. You book time with Flexpetz online or by phone. Each dog comes with its own bed, bowls, leash, chew toys, doggy waste bags, and prepackaged and premeasured dog food.

To ensure some continuity in the dog’s emotional life, Flexpetz members are required to rent the dogs at least twice a month. They also must take an hour-long training session. Each dog carries an embedded chip with GPS and temperature sensors so Flexpetz can find it if it strays and make sure it’s not too hot or too cold. The dogs are screened to determine how many humans they can handle, and when they aren’t out on assignment, they spend their time in cage-free day-care centers.

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