Brooklyn-based Dog Parker wants to keep people from tying up their dogs outside local restaurants and stores — leaving them at the mercy of strangers and potential thieves — by offering by-the-minute membership into micro-boarding facilities. The company has installed locking crates outside of two business in the borough for beta testing, and it has plans to offer more than 100 locations by spring of next year.
Similar to car-sharing company Zipcar, members will have cards that electronically unlock the partially climate-controlled crates. They can then lock their dog inside the crate at a price of 20 cents per minute for up to three hours, leaving them free to brunch with friends or run errands. Once they’re done, they come back, use their keycard (once a dog is in the locker, only her owner’s card will open it), and retrieve their dog.
When I first heard about Dog Parker, I had to double-check my calendar — I thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke. What else would account for such a horrible idea?! I live in Brooklyn with my two dogs, and I cannot imagine a situation in which I would ever leave either of them unattended on a sidewalk, whether tied up or in a locked crate; no convenience or errand is worth their safety and comfort!
A quick perusal of the company’s FAQ section left me with even more concerns. These little germ boxes only get cleaned once a week, which I’m pretty sure makes them dirtier than the NYC subway. Also, while dog owners must provide proof their dogs are vaccinated when they sign up for the program, there is of course no way to ensure the dog being put into the crate is actually the dog who has been fully vaccinated.
In the future, Dog Parker plans to equip each crate with a camera so owners will be able to watch their dog in the locker from a phone app (the same app that will allow you to reserve popular lockers up to 15 minutes in advance). The company claims it also will monitor the cameras to ensure everything is working properly.
And it has a plan in place to prevent people from abandoning their dogs in the lockers. The membership agreement explains that if members leave their dog for more than the three-hour maximum, they will be charged $5 per minute up to 30 minutes, at which point the company will dispatch a crew to bring the dog to a boarding facility, which will charge a $200 service fee and boarding costs. The company also says it will contact local authorities if owners do not claim their dog at the boarding facility.
I am admittedly and without a doubt a neurotic, obsessive, and very protective dog guardian, and so when I first heard about Dog Parker, my mind raced with the thousands of ways this idea could all go very, very wrong. The Dog Parker boxes are insulated and are equipped with heat sensors and a solar-powered cooling system for warm days. The temperature inside the crate is visible to owners on the app as well as to the company.
If it gets too cold (under 34 degrees F) or too hot (over 85 degrees F) in the crate, it will automatically lock and not be available for use. That temperature variance is far too extreme for what I would feel comfortable leaving my own dogs in. I would be very concerned about the risk of malfunction with the cooling system as well, and about how quickly a dog could be cooked in a little metal box on a sidewalk.
Beyond all of the above concerns I have about the crate itself, I really wouldn’t trust the safety of my dog to strangers walking down the sidewalk. I love NYC, and I really love Brooklyn — I think it’s the best place in the world to live — but I’m also not naive and can envision the many ways people could (and likely will) bother dogs left in those lockers, including banging on them and letting their own dogs go right up to the glass window to terrorize the dog inside.
The only possible positive aspect of Dog Parker is that it could be seen as a harm-reduction strategy for people who, regardless of the risks, leave their dogs tied up outside restaurants and stores. With the frequency with which I see pleas for help in Facebook groups as well as reports of dogs stolen from outside of businesses, I can’t understand why anyone would take such a risk, but I see people doing it daily. Theoretically, I suppose, Dog Parker might be a better option, though I’m pretty unconvinced of the overall safety.
I’m all about creating situations where people can safely enjoy more events with their dogs, especially for those of us living in big cities, but leaving your dog in a locker on the sidewalk while you go do other things doesn’t work for me. As a dog guardian, I believe it’s my job to adjust my life to meet the specific needs of my dogs, not force them into stressful and unsafe situations in order to accommodate my desire to meet friends for brunch.
Are you less skeptical than I am? Dog Parker plans to extend its services beyond NYC, so it might be coming to a neighborhood near you soon. What do you think? Would you leave your dog in a locker?
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About the author: Sassafras Lowrey is a dog-obsessed author based in Brooklyn. She is the winner of the 2013 Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation, and her latest novel Lost Boi was released in April. Sassafras is a certified trick dog instructor, and she assists with dog agility classes. Sassafras lives with her partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, two bossy cats, and a semi-feral kitten. She is always on the lookout for adventures with her canine pack. Learn more on her website www.SassafrasLowrey.com.