Would You Ever Rent a Dog?
Oh, Facebook. People are always ready to share something that makes me wonder whether our planet has lost its collective mind. Last week I saw the article "Rent a Pup: Oregon's richest veterinarian wants to lease you a pet -- but complaints dog his business." At first I thought it was a joke -- a couple of years ago, I fell for Yelp's April Fool about the Forever Young Puppy of the Month, and felt like a big idiot when I realized it wasn't true. I would rather have felt like a fool twice than to realize the truth -- this is real, and pet rentals are, for at least one veterinarian, a valid way to increase his financial bottom line at the cost of the well-being of animals.
My blood pressure started to rise. I wouldn't have been surprised if smoke started pouring from my ears, a la Yosemite Sam.
The article is about a business called Hannah the Pet Society, which is a misnomer -- I think it should be called "Hannah, the Let's Exploit Animals for Money Society," but maybe that name was already claimed.
In the interest of fairness, I wanted to read an owner's manual to understand the scope of services, but when I tried to check out the Owner's Handbook, I realized that you couldn't read it unless you were a paid member (kind of shady, if you ask me). In the FAQ, many times when potentially volatile questions are posed, Hannah responds by saying that the information is laid out in the ownership agreement.
Hannah is essentially a pet-rental company. To adopt, you go through a "matching process" by filling out a questionnaire to determine what type of pet would be best for you. You can also enroll your own pet in the program, if you are willing to sign over legal ownership. (A warning: It seems you have to sign your pet over and THEN go through the matching process. So what happens if Hannah staff determine a dog is not the right match for the people who have loved it for years? Do they take the dog away and place it in a new home?)
After an initial membership fee of $195 (nonrefundable, provided Hannah matches you with an appropriate pet), you then pay a monthly fee "as low as $59 a month for adult dogs." There's no mention of how much puppies are, what the high range might cost, or how prices are determined. Hannah the Pet Society will deliver food and supplies to your door. Your new dog goes home with a crate, bed, and leash, and is entitled to lifelong access to training services and veterinary care. Hannah's "Pet Parents" may buy the dog out of the program for a pre-determined rate if they choose after the five month "honeymoon period" has passed.
Hannah's customers have posted a bunch of Yelp reviews about their experiences. Many of the owners argue that you are not actually renting a pet, but Hannah's own FAQ suggests otherwise. From page 6, in answer to the question "Isn't this just pet leasing?":
"The Hannah concept is based on lowering the costs and risks of having a Pet and making all of the decisions related to the Pet easier. Legally it is a lease, but actually you are the Pet Parent. By maintaining legal ownership of the Pet, Hannah reduces the cost of service-related liability (associated with medical care, grooming, diet, transportation and so forth)."
One dictionary definition of "rent" includes "the amount paid by a hirer of personal property to the owner for the use thereof." Don't kid yourselves, folks: It's a rental company. Hannah maintains legal ownership of the dog unless you later decide to purchase it from them at a predetermined price.
I love the idea of pet owners being able to pay monthly fees for veterinary care and training costs -- pet insurance companies should jump on board with this. I also like the idea of people getting to "try" pet ownership if they are first-timers or it has been a long while since they owned a dog or raised a puppy. But there's a lot that I'm concerned about with Hannah:
1. You are signing away your rights to make good decisions for your pet
I feed my dogs a home-prepared raw diet, but Hannah supplies only two choices of kibble. Will the company go out and buy a bunch of meat and deliver it to my doorstep?
You also must use Hannah's own veterinarians and trainers, so if you prefer different ones -- sorry, tough luck. What if your dog needs to be a specialist? Is that covered? No way to tell, since the owner's manual is not public. What if you choose to follow a minimal vaccination protocol? Sorry, you don't have that option either.
2. They use veterinarians to perform behavioral evaluations
Are these vets also certified dog trainers, well-versed in the fine art of reading canine body language? If not, they have no business performing temperament assessments any more than I should be prescribing meds for my clients' dogs.
Behavior assessments are done by "Hannah-certified trainers," who obviously have a vested interest in the company. I'd have a lot more faith in independent contractors with independent certifications.
3. A dog is a family member, not an appliance
I've rented a lot of things -- cars, vacation properties, steam cleaners. What do they have in common? THEY ARE THINGS. They don't have feelings, they don't get confused or frustrated when bounced around from owner to owner, they don't rely on consistency to thrive, and they don't form emotional bonds to whomever has them for a given day or week.
Dogs are family members. Ideally, they'll spend their entire lives in a single home, but when that is not practical, the fewer homes the better for the well-being of the dog.
4. Where do the dogs come from?
Hannah's FAQ says, "We currently partner with many animal shelters, humane societies, rescue/non-profit groups and other animal welfare organizations, and we share many common goals for finding responsible Pet parents. Privacy laws and our agreements with them prohibit us from releasing a complete list."
I believe all people renting pets through Hannah should INSIST on more information -- where did your animal come from? If you cannot get that information, it's a shady enterprise, period. Some of the Yelp commenters say they were told that puppies at Hannah were bought from local backyard breeders or puppy mills because of the high demand.
Hannah's FAQ notes that
"Sometimes we will even go as far as calling families who are advertising online or elsewhere that they are looking for a home for their Pet. ... We source Pets only from nonprofits and families –- not from breeders/puppy mills."
So, how do you know these "families" are not also breeders? How do you know John Q. Schnoodle from Craigslist hasn't irresponsibly bred dozens of litters in the past? Many of the shadiest breeders I know advertise pups they can't sell using sob stories like, "Sadly, we must get rid of the family dog." Online advertisements for puppies are a haven for millers, backyard breeders, and puppy brokers.
While I know it's unlikely to get a full history on every shelter pet, I fully believe that Hannah pet parents have every right to know EXACTLY where Hannah got their pet from: breeder, shelter, rescue, or otherwise.
5. If your pet passes away, you don't get to make decisions on how they are handled
Monte's ashes sit in a beautiful carved wooden box on our fireplace mantel next to a clay imprint of his paw, his favorite collar, and his tags. While I know he's gone, these things provide comfort to me, and I'd hate to be without them. My husband already knows I hope also to be cremated when I am gone from this planet and have my ashes sprinkled in the woods with those of the dogs I've loved who have passed before me.
With Hannah, I'm not sure if that would even be an option. "The Pet passes away. Wwe [sic] are legally responsible to take proper care of the remains –- they are cremated unless other arrangements are worked out." Are these private cremations? Are the remains returned to the pet parent?
So what do you think, Dogster readers? I plan to revisit this topic with some alternative suggestions after I get to mull it over a bit, and will keep you updated on any responses I may receive from Hannah, but please let me know your thoughts in the comments.