When Kathleen McDonald moved from San Francisco to Toronto to finish her master’s degree, she found she had little time to care for her four year-old Labrador retriever Harrison. Doggie day care can run upwards of 50 dollars per day, and she didn’t want to have to send Harrison back to California to stay with a friend. Unsure of what else to do, she turned to the internet.
McDonald placed an ad on Craigslist, calling for help from dog lovers. She received a few responses, but no one seemed to be a good fit. She discussed her dilemma with her neighbor, Australian exchange student Davina Rimmer, who agreed to take care of Harrison. Rimmer put the word out that McDonald still needed some help.
Soon, Harrison’s timeshare dog-group expanded to six.
“Harrison has a strong foundation, but he’s also got a great social life,” McDonald said.
McDonald isn’t alone in her dog-sharing deal. These kinds of arrangements are becoming more popular with busy North Americans who can’t afford the expense of professional dog-sitting services. While they’re busy, dog lovers who cannot have their own pet are able to spend time with and care for dogs that might otherwise spend their days lonely and cooped up.
However, McDonald doesn’t leave Harrison with just anybody. She screens potential sharers as carefully as she would a potential date.
“It’s like a checklist. They’re well groomed so they can take care of themselves and my dog. Check.”
Not everyone feels sharing a dog in this manner is healthy. Consistency is key for well-behaved pets. People might want to feed them at odd hours, or have differing opinions on appropriate behavior. Is hopping on the couch acceptable? These inconsistencies can cause confusion in dogs, which may lead them to stop listening to their owners.
Shaswar Arahman, a canine behaviorist at the Toronto Humane Society, said, “I have a hard time getting a family on the same page for training a dog the same way, so if it’s a dog that’s shared between three strangers it’s difficult to get to that point for them all to handle the dog properly.”
Arahman said about 80 percent of people who adopt a dog to share will end up returning it to the animal shelter.
But not everyone has this problem. Rachel Nichol and Jennifer Bachler share 15 month-old English bulldog Elsa. Nichol is the primary owner, and is responsible for the costs. But the two read the same dog books, and enforce the same rules.
“A dog is a lot like a child. It needs the comfort of strict rules and limitations,” explained Nichol.
Many prefer to more intimately know who they’re sharing their pet with. “I wouldn’t do this with just about anybody,” Bachler said.
McDonald feels differently. “You can just see it in their eyes, you know?” she said. “Trusting strangers is the definition of making friends.”