Dog borrowing service barks up right tree

SINCE I was a kid, we always had a family dog.

There was Scooby, our much-loved cocker spaniel; Fizz, a runt in every sense of the word, and then there was Toby, the warm ball of black fluff with a pink tongue and wet nose I picked up in a rescue home when she was just a pup, who became the sixth member of our family.

I miss Toby. I miss her lying at the foot of my bed when I read, I miss throwing sticks for her in the park and I miss looking into her big stupid eyes and making ridiculous kissing noises. So, ‘get a dog’ I hear you say. I can’t. I live in a fourth floor flat with no outdoor space, I’m rarely home, I travel with work, I’m skint and let’s not forget, I’m barely able to look after myself most of the time. So one day when I saw a tweet about BorrowMyDoggy, my heart leapt and I signed up right away.

The idea behind BorrowMyDoggyis simple. It’s a website for dog owners (who for a number of reasons such as work commitments, travel, injury or illness) can’t walk or spend as much time with their dogs as they want to. It puts them in touch with responsible and caring dog lovers, who like me, have a dog shaped hole in their life. Its Danish co-founder Rikke Rosenlund, who has been in London for eight years, calls it “an online community that aims to spread pawprints of happiness”.

The idea came when Rosenlund borrowed a friend’s “very cute brown Labrador”. While walking, she thought about the thousands of people who pay dog walkers £15-£30 a pop and came up with a better way for dog lovers and busy owners to connect. Rosenlund pitched the idea at a business event where she met her co-founder. Before setting up, they spoke with hundreds of dog owners to understand their needs and concerns.

Since launching in the UK last year, the site had gained thousands of members, from Scotland to Northern Ireland and there have been many enquires from Ireland too. At the moment the team are in the final stages of setting up BorrowMyDoggy.ie, which they hope will be up and running by late September.

But BorrowMyDoggy is more than a clever business idea, it’s also a labour of love. Emails are signed off with ‘Woofs and wagtails’, ‘Best Woofs’, and other ‘pawsome’ dog-friendly expressions. “We are a young pup of a company still but all is progressing well and it is a big milestone for us to launch in Ireland,” says Rosenlund.

The site itself works a little like a dating site, with one major difference — only dog owners can contact borrowers. This, Roselund explains, is because a six-month-old Husky would be inundated with requests, so the power is in the owners’ hands. Every member pays £25 to create a profile, complete with a picture and personal details.

Borrowers are then vetted, and addresses and phone numbers are checked, all to ensure the dog’s safety and happiness. Owners can search in their local area for borrowers, send them a message and then comes the ‘Welcome woof’ — a doggy meet and greet, and a chance for owner, dog and borrower to get to know each other and ask questions.

And so the day of my ‘welcome woof’ arrives. I am meeting Benj, who works in the tech sector in London’s hipster haven Shoreditch and his 12-year-old dog Elvis. I wait nervously in a north London park for Benj and Elvis to arrive and when they do, it is love at first sight (with Elvis that is). He is a friendly, plucky little dog that I feel I could mange easily. He is also playful, full of energy and a little but bold. I want him to be my new four-legged friend.

For owner Benj, BorrowMyDoggy is a perfect solution. “My dog spends a lot of time at home on his own, and I travel. I think it’s much better for the dog if they can hang out with somebody and it’s good for the people too.”

The first time he left Elvis was “a little daunting” but Benj has found BorrowMyDoggy a much better alternative to kennels. “You don’t know how much attention the dog is getting, but in my case my dog was getting spoiled more than I would do. There’s a neighbourly feeling to the whole thing,” he adds patting Elvis’ belly, “It’s building a dog-loving community.”

As for Elvis and I, I think the feeling was mutual, but it’s down to Benj to decide if I get to look after him on my own in the future. I keep my paws crossed for a few days, and then an email from Benj arrives. I have been approved.

About a week later Benj and I arrange a date. I am nervous/excited about seeing Elvis again. I arrive at his house at 10am and am discharged with a lead, a bag to scoop poop and one very friendly little dog. The minute I am alone with Elvis my nerves disappear, and I remember why dogs really are a man’s best friend. Elvis and I make a good match, we have a lot in common. We both loving walking, being admired by strangers and hanging out in the park. The only thing we don’t have in common is an irrepressible urge to sniff or pee on every bin in north London. After a little while Elvis and I hit our stride. He is such a happy dog, and being around him makes me happy. Having left the house feeling stressed, I suddenly feel carefree.

Walking down the high street, we come across a lady with a beautiful young puppy and stop for a little mutual dog admiration and a chat. At the market, another lady dumps her shopping bags to pet Elvis. When we stop for coffee, a very handsome guy lets Elvis lick his hand and smiles at me. Elvis makes a great wingman.

Maybe I had forgotten how sociable dog-owners are, but I had definitely forgotten how relaxing and therapeutic it is to be in the company of a scrap who looks at you with adoring eyes. But being pragmatic, taking Elvis for a morning has also reminded me of the responsibility that comes with a dog... they definitely aren’t just for Christmas.

The morning flies by, and after a run in the park (where Elvis quickly makes friends, then enemies, with a very large Rottweiler) and a few more cuddles, it’s time to bring him back. Just around the corner from his house, a woman passes us and I see a familiar look on her face — it’s dog envy, and for once it’s not mine.

BorrowMyDoggy launches in Ireland in late September, for more information see BorrowMyDoggy.ie It will cost €24.99 for owners and €7.99 for borrowers to sign up.


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