Catie Copley, resident dog at the FairmontThe dog rental business started off as one of those crazy Japanese trends that Americans couldn't quite believe really existed. In Japan everybody has mind-blowing electronics, wears eyelash wigs, competes on wacky gameshows like live Tetris. And, oh yeah, they rent out dogs for $19 an hour or $100 a day.

An American company FlexPetz has tried to copy the formula here, staring with a small office in Iowa. No, just kidding. Where would someone start the Zipcar of dogs but in Los Angeles and New York? They claim they are for people who don't have the time or pet-friendly apartment for a real dog but the more popular theory is they're for singles who want to pick someone up.

FlexPetz tracks their dogs with GPS and says they use rescue dogs "where possible." The dogs in their pictures all seem to be purebreds, but FlexPetz tells the stories of some that come from shelters or were given up by owners. By all accounts they take great care of their dogs. What these dogs' emotional life is like after work, I'm not sure.


But the whole thing is mildly creepy. Even if you don't have a dog yourself, surely you must know somebody who has a dog, right? Somebody who needs pet-sitting or walking?

I like the hotel programs that InvestorSpot wrote about this week in this fun story much better. Two hotels, the Fairmont in Boston and the Ritz Carlton in Bachelor Gulch, Colorado, have resident dogs who guests are free to take out on walks.

The Fairmont has Catie Copley, a black lab who was a guide dog until she developed vision problems of her own. Guide dogs, of course, have PhD's in manners, so anybody is lucky to be around them. She lives with one of the staff, has an appointment book and takes naps between walks. Now that's a great way for everyone to enjoy a friendly dog while traveling. And, even people who aren't missing their dogs can enjoy her company: the Fairmont is pet-friendly, with a $25 per night pet fee.

The Ritz-Carlton has a rescue yellow lab, saved from the streets of Denver by Nikeno's Second Chances. The Ritz was looking for a dog for its Loan-A-Lab program, adopted him and named him Bachelor. There are a bunch of rules about who can take Bachelor out and where but the gist of it is he gets to go on mountain hikes with all kinds of people. And the Ritz is also dog-friendly, with a $125 fee per stay.

I don't think I'll ever find myself in a situation where I want to rent a dog. But I could definitely see myself -- even if I weren't traveling with a dog -- being drawn to a hotel that thinks of dogs as an asset, not a nuisance.

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