Online Matchmaking, but With Dogs as Dates

Tuesday, December 01, 2015


Online Matchmaking, but With Dogs as Dates

Jennifer Jolly and her daughter, Jeneva Toolajian, take Pickles, an 8 month old French Bulldog, on a walk near their home in Oakland, Calif. Credit Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times

I want a dog, but my landlady is a cat person.

I’ve whined, begged and offered a hefty security deposit trying to change her mind. Keeping a dog by your side has been considered a healthy habit for tens of thousands of years. Research shows that dogs can prompt us to be more active and less stressed, and dog owners tend to visit the doctor less often and live longer. After a string of robberies in our neighborhood and my own encounter with a naked man on a nearby running trail, I tried to convince my landlord that we would all be safer with a dog around. It’s still a no.

Enter Pickles — a snorting, wheezing, wiggling 15 pounds of smoosh-face French bulldog bliss that is technology’s answer to my dog dilemma. Using a new app called Bark’N’Borrow, an Uber-type matchmaking service, we borrowed Pickles recently for an overnight dose of dog companionship.

The idea behind BarkN’Borrow and other new dog-service apps like Rover and Dog Vacay is to create a community of dog lovers both with and without dogs — pairing those who crave canine companionship with dogs that could use a little more people time. Bark’N’Borrow also connects dog owners for pooch playdates and has a portal for potential dog-sitter matches as well. Rover and Dog Vacay, meanwhile, offer boarding options for pets in people’s homes rather than a kennel.

Given that services like Airbnb, Liquid, Fon and Getaround allow people to share their homes, bikes, WiFi and cars, it was only a matter of time before pets got involved in the sharing economy too.

To start, I set up an online profile on Bark’N’Borrow, sort of like an online dating service, with photo, personal information, my reasons for wanting to meet a dog and the qualities I’m looking for in a dog. The basic service is free, and payment is required only for dog-sitting services.

After asking for a dog that was “easy-going, good with people, good with children, good with other dogs, good with other animals, and good with strangers,” two matches in my area popped up right away. I had the choice of a 4-year-old golden retriever named Ringo and a 5-month-old French bulldog named Pickles. They both looked great, so I took the next step — contacting the owners. Specific prompts allowed me to suggest a time and location for meeting in person.

Dog owners have various reasons for using Bark’N’Borrow. Some work long hours and worry about keeping a dog cooped up at home all day. Some are frequent travelers who would rather have the personal touch of a borrower versus a kennel. And some, I would soon come to find out, just believe in sharing their precious pets with people like me, because they’ve seen the good it can do for both sides.

By now you’re probably wondering how anyone could leave a beloved pet with a total stranger. Bark’N’Borrow’s founder, Liam Berkeley, told me the company took great pains to verify users, linking to their Facebook profile or other public information, and that someone actually reviewed every account before giving anyone the green light to interact with the rest of the community.

A similar service in Britain and Ireland called BorrowMyDoggy has amassed thousands of users and more than 200,000 Facebook fans in the three years it has been operating. The San Francisco-based start-up Walkzee has also been met with widespread approval for pairing people with animal shelter dogs to take for walks. Walkzee has been in beta-testing for several months in more than 100 shelters across America and went live to the public this fall.

Kirsten Harris, a 23-year-old who works at a tech start-up, responded to my in-app query within a few minutes. After a few emails, we agreed to talk by phone.

Pickles is a French bulldog that is available for play dates on a new dog-loaning service called Bark’N’Borrow. Credit Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times

During our phone call, I learned more about Pickles — who is friendly, well-behaved, housebroken and, at the tender age of five months, already a veteran to the Bark’N’Borrow process. I told her about my family and my reasons for wanting to borrow a dog. I explained about our home, nearby dog-walking trails and parks, my experience growing up with dogs and my landlady, the cat lady.

We agreed to meet.

Ms. Harris and Pickles met my daughter and me outside our home less than eight hours after we first connected on Bark’N’Borrow. A bowlegged blond beast basically leapt out of her arms and into our hearts. Ms. Harris told us that the motto of the French bulldog is “Love the one you’re with,” and Pickles definitely lived up to his breed’s reputation. His regular borrowers include a mother and 2-year-old son and a 30-year-old woman and recent Manhattan transplant who borrows Pickles overnight every few weeks for companionship.

Ms. Harris, on her way to San Francisco for the night, stayed for a while and watched Pickles and my daughter play in the yard as Pickles shredded some leaves and discovered the small green apples that had fallen from our trees.

Our night with Pickles was everything we had hoped for and more. Pickles wrestled with my daughter’s long hair and snuggled on my lap. After a few barks when my husband got home from work (a watch dog!), Pickles ended up sleeping in our bed, right between our heads.

The next day Pickles traveled with my family to a cross-country meet, where he mingled with other dogs, high schoolers and parents who wanted to know where they could borrow a dog too.


This article was written by Jennifer Jolly and originally appeared on the NY Times Blog on November 12, 2015.

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