“Have dog, will share” was the headline of Kevin Griffin’s article in the Vancouver Sun on Tuesday. His story was about a website called Part Time Pooch, which Vancouver resident Gavin Flett has launched. The concept is brilliant: dog owners who don’t want to leave their pets in a kennel are matched with dog lovers called “hosts” who can’t have a dog full-time, but are happy to have a dog visit. Already, the website has expanded from Vancouver to Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, with 200 dog owners and 750 hosts. Part Time Pooch is based on similar programs in the United Kingdom called Borrow My Doggy, and in the United States called City Dog Share.
I can vouch for the joys of dog sharing. For several years, my husband and I had what amounted to “joint custody” of a beautiful, friendly golden retriever named Sandy. Sandy actually belonged to friends who had bought the dog for their teenage son while he was still in high school. When the son went out of town to university, the dog remained at home with the parents who both worked outside the home. It soon became clear that leaving the dog alone was not an option good for the dog.
My husband, an academic who worked from his office in our home, had grown up with dogs, and always been enamoured of cocker spaniels and golden retrievers. We never considered getting a dog of our own because we had a cat. And, more importantly, we liked to travel and knew that care of dogs while on vacation was a complicated, and probably expensive, proposition. That was the rub. How could we continue our lifestyle and still have a dog?
Over dinner one night, someone came up with the idea that my husband and Sandy should get together. Sandy could spend his days with my husband. Our friends would have him on weekends and when their son returned home. Sandy would still be their dog, but we would dog-sit. Always on the condition that, were we to go away, they would take the dog back full-time. He was such a loveable dog, so eager for companionship, that extending his family circle seemed perfectly natural. And so it was. Our cat adjusted, so did we, and so did Sandy. It was a perfect arrangement.
That was how it began. Before long, we learned that our friends were more bothered by dog hair than either my husband or I. Eventually, we had the dog almost full-time; he went “home” only when the son came from school or we were away. My husband and I joined the circle of dog owners at our local park. When my husband had to be on campus, I sometimes took the dog to work, keeping him in my Chambers, which were readily accessible to the out-of-doors. People in the building, who liked dogs and did not have one, visited him and brought him treats.
My former law partners who specialized in family law proposed a “Joint Custody Agreement” to deal with primary residence, access, support for health care costs, guardianship of Sandy, etc. No real agreement was ever drafted or signed, and was never needed. Their proposed “Joint Custody Agreement” for a dog, however, would be a precedent to consider if sharing dogs becomes widespread.
And why shouldn’t it? Professional dog walkers now take on the responsibilities of owners working during the day. Extended family or friends “dog sit.” And now Part Time Pooch and similar programs offer a variation of the model. Whether welcoming a dog as a “host,” a regular dog-sitter, or a “joint custody” dog, the communal enjoyment of dogs may have come into its own. It worked well for us, for years.