Dog Sharing

“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.

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  1. Janne

    Let me tell you about my 90-year-old uncle whom I’ll call Ben who lives alone in a high-rise apartment building in Toronto. Several years ago and shortly after moving to this building from a small city in Ontario in order to be closer to his daughter, Ben met a young woman, Eleanor, and her dog, Lupa, on the elevator. They got to chatting about this and that, including discussing the dog. Before long Ben and Eleanor had made the arrangement that Lupa would spend the days with Ben while Eleanor is at work and return to Eleanor’s apartment for the nights. Occasionally Lupa also spends weekends or longer periods with Ben so Eleanor can travel. Did I mention that Ben is blind? Now, seven years after first meeting, all three continue to thrive on this arrangement. Eleanor has a key to Ben’s apartment; opens the door to let Lupa in each morning at 8:00 on her way to work; Lupa jumps on Ben’s bed if he’s not up yet; and spends her day accompanying Ben to parks, coffee shops, the library, on and off the streetcar and subway. Ben loves her company and gets a kick out of his white cane gaining Lupa access to places she otherwise may not be allowed to enter. Eleanor keeps an eye on Ben and contacts his daughter if she notices anything the daughter should know. Ben is out and about in the neighbourhood about four times a day. The joy this arrangement gives him shines on his face whenever he speaks of Lupa. And Lupa, who was a rescue from Cuba, could not have a better life.

  2. Lori

    Very sweet. And… I know just the people to share this post with (and, also, the person NOT to share this with!!!) (the former being friends, who were just discussing whether or not dogs really cramp one’s style… and schedule, and the latter being my mom, who would rush out on an instant and sign right up!) (So please don’t tell her! Eek!!)

    Anyway, what a nice piece. I needed that. I dog-visited for neighbours this week – partly because I do miss having pets in my life, and I adore their two gorgeous, gigantic, grey, standard poodles. (And they, me, I might add – which is really rather charming! I received quite the welcome!)

    Cat-sitting is also in my immediate future, as I always visit the cat of dear friends, whenever they are away – have done so for over a decade. Once, when we were really missing our first pair of kitties, she even stayed here. Now, though: nasty to inflict the trip on her in the winter – and she does love her home, now that she is an older gal. So, I go there. And enjoy her company very much! If I sit and read a book over there, she’ll hop up in my lap and… that’s it. I’m stuck! (I can imagine far worse fates.)

    Thanks for this very thoughtful piece.


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