Time-sharing condos is old news, but time-sharing dogs is relatively new. It used to be you either owned a dog or you didn't. Not anymore.

Whether you call it "rent a pet" or "shared pet ownership," the concept is the same. And whether or not it's a good one depends on who you ask.

FlexPetz opened earlier this year in San Diego, and a location in Los Angeles followed close on its acquisition of a well-heeled clientele. Coming soon: New York City, San Francisco, London, Boston, D.C. ... Detect a theme? All high-dollar cities filled with busy, beautiful people willing to pay big bucks for a part-time pooch.

No muss. No fuss. None of that "in sickness or in health" stuff. Only in health. Only when in the mood.

Here's how it works:

You pay the introductory fee, the annual fee, the monthly fee and the daily fee for any actual "dog time" booked — with a two-day minimum charge each month whether or not you spend any time with a pup. In return you can book anything from a few hours to a week at a time with any available FlexPet at any location, domestic or abroad. Perks include holistic dog food, a care package and an optional shuttle service available for pickup and delivery of your dog — $17.50 for one way or $35 for pickup and collection. Just beware the $75/day "inconvenience fee" if you don't return your rented companion on time.

All that adds up to a minimum of $1,300 a year in rental fees. Instead of shelling out that kind of money to rent, why not get your very own, live-at-home, full-time dog?

But, but, but: "I work all the time." "I travel frequently." "My landlord won't allow it." "I enjoy my freedom but love dogs." "I've never had a dog before and want to test the waters." And my personal favorite, as seen on a KTLA newscast: "This little guy'll help me pick up the ladies."

In other words, guilt-free, worry-free, commitment-free dog ownership. Great for the busy commitment-phobe, but what about the dog?

According to Michael Markarian, executive vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, "Dogs are a lifetime friend and companion, not a two-hour piece of rental equipment."

But what about dogs that need a home anyway? According to FlexPetz founder Marlena Cervantes, who has no professional experience with animal behavior, the dogs of FlexPetz are all rescues.

Indeed. Good-looking, exotic, impressive rescues. Two rare Afghan hounds. A crew of fluffy, friendly Labs. To be sure, nothing missing an eye or with a limp. All highly adoptable dogs. Judging from the Web site, www.flexpetz.com, and Cervantes' enthusiasm at the number of people who will stop you on the street when walking one of her dogs, you can be sure FlexPetz is as invested in image as it is in convenience.

On the other hand, Randy Grim, author of "Miracle Dog" (about a dog that survived the gas chamber in a St. Louis shelter) and founder of Stray Rescue of St. Louis, spearheaded Rent-A-Pet in Missouri three years ago. It costs the "client" nothing in terms of cash but a lot in labor and love.

Grim's concept is: Pick up your shelter pup on Friday; drop off on Sunday. In between, work with him — in the car, in the home, in the yard; with commands and with play; get him used to doorbells, phones, vacuum cleaners, stairs, the car wash.

The results? The program has been responsible for the adoption of more than 1,000 dogs and has cut back on returns by 80 percent.

Whereas FlexPetz pups are all 2 to 3 years old and come from a home, Rent-A-Pet dogs come in all ages, with varying numbers of scars and bald spots, and many have never seen the inside of a house.

I don't want to take sides, but clearly I am. While I'm not on board with the idea of renting anything other than cars, apartments and karaoke machines, Grim's street dogs needed help, and his head and heart were in the right place. As he bluntly put it to a Newsday reporter, "I want to make sure they're taking the dog for positive reasons, not to show off to friends. It's for the dog, not the people."

I'm not sure what Cervantes is accomplishing, other than a hefty profit margin. But her service is clearly for the people, not the dogs. When at all possible, dogs need stability just as children do. A dog's ability to remain unaffected by an endless cycle of bonding and separation seems no more likely than a child's ability to remain unaffected after being shuttled in and out of foster homes.

To be blunt, those who are too busy, too afraid of the responsibility, too uncertain about the commitment, too unwilling to compromise the lifestyle, simply shouldn't have a dog. Period.

Woof!


Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Send your questions to [email protected] or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619. © Creators Syndicate Inc.