Working too hard to keep a dog? Borrow someone else’s

If you love dogs but it’s just not possible to be a fulltime pet-owner, then a doggy website lets you hook up with owners who need some help with walkies.

So started an article over the weekend in The Observer.

Makes some sense but a better idea? Foster and really make a difference!

I love city living – dashing across town on the tube, stumbling across pop-up shops, staying out late with friends – but there is, for me, a problem. Chaotic urban living is pretty much incompatible with owning a dog. Which, given that I was brought up with schnauzers shumbling around, has left me bereft.

Fortunately, a burgeoning dog-sharing service has come on the scene. Doing exactly what is says on the tin, hooks up the dog-deprived with owners who could do with a break from prying noses and pouncing paws.

The website is a curious affair – a sort of doggy dating site riddled with twee canine puns from “how to create a pawesome profile” to a section devoted to “waggy tales”. But, saccharine or not, it is simple to use and you get the feeling the people behind it are far from hare-brained; the dogs are covered by third-party insurance, an emergency vet line is available for borrowers and owners alike, there’s a blog packed with helpful advice and you can even leave feedback, although only positive reviews are shared with the rest of the “pack”. The service is also surprisingly cheap. Owners can sign up to all of the above for £44.99 a year while borrowers need only stump up a tenner.

I signed up faster than you can say Jack Russell.

Sorting out a suitable dog took a little longer. Demand to borrow is high but many owners are looking for someone who can take care of their pooch during the day – the very reason I am, currently, canine-free. But playing with the filters means you can whittle the selection down by location and availability – handy, given there are several thousand dogs on offer in London alone.

And so it was I chanced on Darcey, a doe-eyed dachshund. Her owner, actor Nicola Millbank, is a fan of the service. “I think the difficult thing is just having to juggle your career and your spare time with a dog,” she tells me when we meet for our cutesily termed “welcome woof”, a brief rendezvous to check all three of us are happy at the prospect of handing over the leash. Having volunteers from the website, Millbank finds, eases the strain. “I’d say we’ve kind of fine-tuned it now to about five couples or five people whom we really like.”

Darcey is adorable. Eleven months old and with a squidgy layer of puppy fat still on show, she’s busy tying me in knots with a lead and is clearly no dummy – within minutes she has twigged that I have a stash of dog-chews in my bag and is clearly hatching a plan to get at them.

Does Millbank fear a dog-mad enthusiast might abscond with her darling? “Well, yeah, I mean [there is] that worry,” she says. But the insurance policy has assuaged most of her fears. “That is a weight off my mind, that if anything were to happen – God forbid, it’s your baby – they do cover that. But I think it is up to you how much research you do on the couple or individual that you are going to leave her with.” Millbank, keenly aware of the specialist know how needed to care for a dachshund, is cautious in vetting would-be walkers. “I would talk to them a lot, then meet up with them, then let them have her for 20 minutes and then go to their home environment, leave her there for an hour, couple of hours,” she says.

Happily, I pass muster.

But taking Darcey out on my own of an evening is not quite the walk in the park I imagined. Leash in hand, I feel as if I have gatecrashed someone else’s relationship, finding myself expected to look after – and control – a precious family member with all the authority of a rubber duck. And the dog knows it. “You can take me walkies, feed me treats and ruffle my ears,” Darcey says with a glance. “But you’re not Mum.”

Indeed, as we head off, the bizarre reality of borrowing a dog becomes obvious. I have no idea of this dog’s temperament, how well she copes with people, dogs, buses – in fact all of the things swarming around us.

When we reach the park, an enormous, hulking vision of mastiff butch steams over, owners oblivious, and I suddenly feel like throwing myself in front of this tiny, trusting creature. Needless to say, Darcey is utterly unfazed, merrily pottering along with a nonchalant air.

But there is no doubt it’s a joy to have a dog by my side, a moment to lark about in the park, an excuse to talk loudly to myself as I walk down the street. And, of course, I can hand back the lead at the end without having to worry about where to park a pooch. Does Millbank worry that some people might get too attached? “No, because she is my dog and it is up to me how much time these people spend with her,” she says. “I remember the sort of pain, shall I put it, of wanting [a dog] so badly but I couldn’t have one. It’s such a good idea that other people get to experience [having a dog] on a temporary basis.” The website, she believes, benefits both parties. “There’s nothing I could fault with borrowmydoggie,” she says, adding wryly: “I could fault the dog – she’s peed on somebody’s sofa on her first meeting once.”

Darcey declines to comment.


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