Imagine a service where you could borrow a dog or have help with your dog for the day? Well the great news is, BorrowMyDoggy is a service that not only exists, it’s also growing rapidly and can bring many benefits, including a whole new world of experience to your dog! As it’s a service I love, talk about often and even use with my dog Rodney, I was so glad to chat about it with founder Rikke Rosenlund in a recent podcast.
The BorrowMyDoggy Idea
Rikke revealed her inspiration for BorrowMyDoggy started around 10 years ago. At that time owning her own dog wasn’t an option, so Rikke borrowed a very cute brown labrador called Esten: ‘we spent the entire day together and I just remember thinking, why are people spending so much money on dog foster kennels or leaving their dog home alone when I would love to take care of a dog for free?’
After considering whether a website connecting people like herself with local dog owners might work, Rikke then set about researching the idea a little more closely.
‘I went to this startup weekend where we built a landing page in a couple of hours, just to see if anyone wanted to sign up to BorrowMyDoggy. The most amazing thing happened – 85 people signed up in 3 days, from an elderly man in Cornwall who’d just had an operation and needed help taking his dog for long walks, to students and young professionals missing their dogs at home so they wanted to borrow one, plus a family with a little girl who was begging for a dog but she was scared of them, so they didn’t want to get a dog to then maybe have to give it up.
And I thought, do you know what, maybe people don’t all have to own a dog, maybe there is a kind of a way in between? People can get happy dog ownership but owners like the elderly man or owners who need help with getting their dog socialised, go to work or have a night out can also benefit, so why don’t we all just help each other? Everyone benefits, especially dogs.’
Listen to the podcast to find out what I was doing at the time – my own version of borrow a dog.
Borrow My Doggy begins
From the initial startup concept, Rikke then set up BorrowMyDoggy in 2012. At first, with the full infrastructure of the website and business still in development, Rikke personally – and manually – matched every person signing up to BorrowMyDoggy – including two women who lived opposite each other!
Following this initial process of visiting people’s houses, building relationships and talking to them about possible matches, Rikke advocated a phase called ‘meet and greet’ which has become integral to the community aspects of BorrowMyDoggy.
‘We can do safety checks and we can do verification of all of our members, we have everyone covered by insurance, everyone has access to a 24-7 vet line, so all that is covered. But for me one of the really big things is that people meet and greet, they get to know each other.
Like the two ladies who literally lived across the street from each other, they just hadn’t spoken before. It’s people in your local neighbourhood, you meet them, get to know them and, as a lot of dog owners even said to me, they can see if the dog likes the borrowers […] Sometimes people will meet up 3 times, sometimes people click immediately, everyone is different. It’s not up to us to prescribe how many times people should meet, it’s up to people to figure out what they are comfortable with, is it a good person that they have met up with, for them and their dog or not?’
How does the service work?
The website at borrowmydoggy.com is a good place to start. Owners and potential borrowers sign up to create profiles, sharing information about themselves or their dog, including photos and offering availability. Then the website can help match borrowers and owners, as Rikke explained:
‘Once you’ve created a profile then you can search for members – first and foremost based on your postcode, but we have different distance builders. You can also search for different things, like size of the dog etc. Once people have found someone they like, they can send a message and then they can meet and greet, just like you would with a dog-sitter or babysitter.’
There is an annual subscription which includes verification, third-party liability insurance, emergency vet cover and access to a 24-7 vet line.
Making a match
Rikke shared that any breed of dog can be signed up by their owners on BorrowMyDoggy, but matching isn’t so much by breed, more by need and suitability:
‘It’s up to the dog owner to meet with the local borrowers and find out if they are suitable for their dog – and that’s why it’s so important to meet and greet. Some dogs are super-active and some of our borrowers want to have a running companion – obviously if you’re talking about a very old dog, it might not fit well with someone who’s going to want to run 5km with a dog every time they borrow it! Read each other’s profiles and make sure there is a match for what you as a dog owner are looking for, but also what fits well with the borrowers.
Find out why and how Rodney is involved with BorrowMyDoggy in the podcast.
Who wants to borrow a dog – and why?
Subscribers to BorrowMyDoggy come from all [dog] walks of life, although Rikke has noticed a few common traits:
‘The majority of our borrowers have actually grown up around dogs, so they know what it means to have a dog in their lives. Generally borrowers tend to be slightly younger than dog owners too because there are a lot of people who are thinking about getting a dog and they’re just not not at the stage of their lives to own a dog right now.
We also do have a fair amount of borrowers who used to have a dog but they’ve lost their dog and they’re just not ready to get a new one yet […] we literally have everything from young professionals to students, lots of families and retired people.’
A growing business
From its launch in 2012, BorrowMyDoggy now takes a lead in UK pet-sharing, with over a million members in 99% of UK postcodes. Rikke acknowledged this is largely down to its community based approach: ‘we have so many lovely members who are very happy to share information and word of mouth about BorrowMyDoggy.’
Rikke also explained that the business has grown as people change roles, reasons and even responsibilities as members of the BorrowMyDoggy community:
‘We also have by now a lot of people who used to be dog borrowers who’ve become dog owners since, which is really nice to see […] we do have a lot of dog owners too, who join not just to find borrowers but sometimes they also borrow dogs for their dogs, so the dog ownership also includes borrower membership too – it’s very lovely!’
BorrowMyDoggy’s role in responsible dog ownership
As a vet working with the Blue Cross, I’ve seen first-hand that after the pandemic and ‘let’s-get-a-dog’ lockdown trend, many dogs are being relinquished, leaving rescue centres really struggling. But with its community of people wanting the joy of spending time with a dog, it feels that BorrowMyDoggy offers a great way for people to experience the real commitment of dog ownership before actually committing to it full-time. Even better, it creates an opportunity for experiencing the joys and responsibility without ending up over-committed and having to give up the dog.
Rikke agreed this is something seen in the BorrowMyDoggy community: ‘for instance families with kids, where the kids are begging for a dog. What we have seen with some families, the kids afterwards have said we’re much happier just borrowing – we don’t want the morning walks with the dogs! The families have just continued borrowing maybe 2 days a week and for holidays, which I find is great.
And we have other situations where families end up getting a dog but everyone is aligned over what the requirements are. So I think it’s fantastic where people are not fully sure, either what breed to get but also if a dog will fit in their lifestyle.
We also see from the other side too, owners who are struggling can gain the support and help of a borrower which, in many cases, can enable them to keep their dog.’
Challenging the borrow a dog concept
When I posted about sharing my own dog Dolly, a few behaviourists challenged that it could be quite confusing for the dog, that dogs should have complete consistency and there could be potential confusion with dogs being passed around quite a lot. I was confident that this didn’t apply with Dolly, who was having a fantastic time with her extended social circle, but has this challenge of ideas caused problems for BorrowMyDoggy?
‘When we started out we did get challenged but not at all any more. It was everyone from dog charities to other individuals in the pet space but I think that at the moment they started using BorrowMyDoggy, they understood the concept – as in it’s not about handing your dog over to strangers, it’s about meet and greet and getting to know somebody well, just like you would do with a dog sitter or a child-minder.
Now, even the dog charities really like the fact that people borrow dogs before they get one so they understand what they get into, so that you don’t end up having all these dogs getting given up afterwards, Likewise, there’s a lot of people who would love to keep their dog and they’re going through a difficult period, so they’re getting help and they can actually keep their dog that means everything to them. I think again it’s really about remembering that this is not about handing your dog over to a stranger, it’s about getting to know someone.’
With over a decade of BorrowMyDoggy behind her, Rikke has many stories about the difference BorrowMyDoggy has made to its members’ lives and the benefits of being part of a community with both pets and people at its heart. From limiting loneliness, assisting with anxiety and forging friendships, Rikke shared many stories on the podcast, including one of her favourites:
‘We had an elderly woman, I think she was in her 70s, she borrowed a dog, went for a walk on a beach and because of the dog she got into conversation with another person – an elderly man – and they ended up getting married! You know how dogs are conversation openers, when you get a dog you speak to others that you wouldn’t otherwise be speaking with!’
As a vet who sees the struggles within dog rescues and of course as a dog-parent, I think BorrowMyDoggy is an absolutely fantastic service. As an owner it has been a life saver and has also opened up Rodney to a wider social circle which includes children, plus a whole load of great experiences. But you know, the main reason I love it is because it really has its foundations and its roots in the community around dogs, which I think are sometimes one of the best ways to bring people together.
Whether you want to borrow a dog or find someone in your local community to love and look after your dog just like you do, please visit BorrowMyDoggy.
Listen to the full podcast to enjoy more happy stories about sharing the love of dogs through BorrowMyDoggy.
Dr Paul Manktelow is a vet who’s worked for almost 20 years on the front line in some of the UK’s busiest veterinary hospitals. As Chief Vet in the Charity Sector, he leads a team of vets and nurses that treat thousands of pets every year. Paul also appears regularly in the media as a TV and radio presenter, writer, public speaker and podcast producer.