Dog-sharing app connects owners to the canine-deprived

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BOSTON – During a rainy Sunday afternoon, Sean Huang drove up with Mars, his 9-month-old Boston Terrier. With supplies in hand and a spray bottle of perfume – because Mars was “staying with ladies” – Huang said the dog seemed to smile as he handed off his excited pooch to that day’s borrower.

Bark n' Borrow-4

Sean Huang with his dog Mars on his Bark ‘N’ Borrow profile.

The visit, which gave Huang some time to do things without having to worry about Mars and the borrower some time to enjoy an entertaining puppy, was arranged through a new smartphone app, Bark ’N’ Borrow, which went live in November. Similar to an online dating service, the app lets users connect to either loan or borrow a dog, for free. It’s also available in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York, though users say the community can be thin.

“I thought the owner would’ve just wanted a dog walker but she let me borrow her dog for the whole weekend,” Shelly Coco, a borrower in New York, said by email. “It was so nice to have some dog time and a great stress reliever”

Huang, who lives in Brighton, said his experience with Bark ’N’ Borrow went smoothly as well.

“It’s no different than using Uber or a sharing car service or something like that,” he said. “The community has the same interests as well as trusts.”

For many, owning a dog is too costly or they work too many hours, so the long absences wouldn’t be fair to the pet. The latter issue got Liam Berkeley, the Bark ’N’ Borrow founder and chief executive in Los Angeles, thinking.

As an avid dog lover separated from his family’s pooches in Australia, he wanted to find a way to help others find canine companionship or a way to park their puppy without all the usual costs.

“I thought why do people pay for someone to look after their dog when there are people who would love to do it for a short amount of time and not expect to get paid?” Berkeley said.

Jessica Perkoski gladly plays with Mars during his visit using Bark 'N' Borrow

Jessica Perkoski gladly plays with Mars during his visit using Bark ‘N’ Borrow

He created the app to help get dog lovers in large cities together, to establish relationships and satisfy their needs. Berkeley said a typical borrower is a young family which either isn’t ready for the commitment of time and money that a dog requires or the parents travel too often. Others are often older couples that don’t want to commit to owning a dog but enjoy spending time with one.

“There is no medium between not owning a dog and committing to one,” Berkeley said. The commitment to owning a dog can take up “a big chunk of your life,” he added. “There’s a big market of people who aren’t at that stage in their life yet.”

For Bostonian Kelsey Labrot, who lives in the North End, trying to find a pup to borrow has been futile so far. She said she’s waiting to find the perfect “Frenchie,” or French bulldog.

“I think it’s genius,” Labrot said about the app. “If I see a dog walking towards me on the street, the owners roll their eyes because they know I’m about to ask a bunch of invasive questions.”

Labrot’s own dog died not long ago, and said she has longed for canine company since then. In the future, she hopes to see more Hub dog owners using it so she can make more connections.

“You have it for people so why not dogs?” Labrot said about the match-making app.

San Francisco resident Grace Wu, a Bark ‘N’ Borrow user and would-be borrower, said most apartments in the city by the bay don’t permit pets and those that do are really expensive, making owning a dog difficult there. She hasn’t had any luck finding a dog to borrow.

“I’ve reached out to almost every pooch in the area,” Wu said, referring to dog owners she has identified. “Either they are not using the app or they are not responding.”

Currently, Wu said she can’t afford a pet of her own and wouldn’t be able to commit to taking care of one full-time. But she wants to have her own pooch someday. To that end, she added, “I thought it would be fun to test out other people’s pets.”

Bark ‘N’ Borrow has been growing ever since a New York Times article featured the service in November. Berkeley said 12,000 people joined up within eight hours after it appeared and the membership has been growing at roughly that rate ever since.

But, for the dog owners who are looking for a break from their dog without paying a fee, Bark ‘N’ Borrow presents some challenges.

Sarah with her dog Bruno

Sarah holds her dog Bruno

One dog owner, Sarah, who asked that her last name be withheld and who frequents the app often, said she gets messages from potential borrowers about once every other day. But with difficulties of coordinating schedules and would-be “borrowers” acting as dog sitters and asking for money, she has only loaned out her Cavalier King Charles spaniel once. But she said she wouldn’t have any qualms about loaning out her Bruno again.

“He’s really cute, he’s really good,” Sarah said. “I have no hesitation in giving him to anybody. He’s like, go with the flow, kind of.”

But she worries about the security checks the app provides to check out borrowers. Before she handed Bruno off to a young college student and her boyfriend, Sarah made sure to call them to get familiar with what they were like beforehand.

Currently the Bark ‘N’ Borrow team reviews and verifies all new user profiles before they are added to the apps potential borrowers. Dog owners must provide their preferred veterinarian contact information so borrowers can be somewhat prepared in event of emergencies. Also, the app’s customer support is available around the clock in case anything arises during a visit. They also provide a comprehensive insurance plan backed by up to $2 million in general liability coverage.

Even so, Sarah said she was nervous letting the couple have her pooch. But she was put at ease when her borrower sent her new pictures of Bruno throughout the day.