Time to throw the internet a bone. And maybe a handful of Kibble.
Rather than chart another example of the internet’s figurative flight to the dogs, we will consider its literal one. This time it’s a winner—an idea as simple and intuitive as eBay’s electronic garage sale.
The background: America is home to more than eighty million owned dogs, about 80 percent of which are considered “part of the family”. Since the average owner has 1.47 dogs (one of ours is definitely a .47), this means that more than fifty million households are blessed with dogs. And, by and large, these are the richer fifty million families in the country, the people that travel.
Historically, dog owners with wanderlust had few choices: stay home with Lassie and a six-pack and watch National Geographic re-runs, have an unemployed relative dog-sit at your house (knowing your liquor will be drained like a malarial swamp) or drop your most beloved family member off at the local kennel and try to have a good time.
This dilemma presents a howling business opportunity to the wolves of Wall Street and it should come as no surprise that two alternatives for the traveling dog owner are now begging for attention—one bricks, the other clicks.
Today’s bricks solution is the resort hotel for dogs. Like two-legged resorts, these have varying levels of accommodations, from basic boxes to fantasy suites (complete, one supposes, with fire hydrants). Some even have spas featuring everything from “pawdicures” to fur-dyeing to mud masks (our dogs don’t require a spa for this last treatment). Guests in these resorts are doubtless well cared-for, but they are still locked away in crates or glorified dog houses for all but a couple hours a day; they are still surrounded by a pack of barking strangers and chances are pretty good that their limited human interaction is with a minimum wager who, all things considered, would rather be anywhere than shoveling it in a Howliday Inn.
In short, just as it’s still a pig despite all the lipstick in the world, it’s still a kennel no matter the décor, the Musak and the white-coated attendants.
Musing for a moment, it might be that the internet is at its best when it simply brings people together, when it allows us to escape the middlemen, the gatekeepers and profit-takers that stand between us and our needs and desires. Last year a net-sponsored study claimed that more than a third of all marriages start on-line—the percentage is likely exaggerated, but the point is undeniable—the net is a great way to meet like-minded people.
On-line companies like Rover.com and DogVacay.com have figured this out: you can crowd source those fifty million dog owners and come up with terrific sitters in every city in the country, sitters who will take your dog into their own homes and not only undercharge the old-school kennels and canine resorts, but who will give your dog a much better, more loving experience.
Search from California to Maine—check cities large and small—and you will find multiple choices for local dog sitters nearly everywhere. The sitters post on-line profiles and reviews, describe their own dogs, how big their yard is, how much play-time they give the dogs and so on. Based on these posts, you pick one, make the call, get comfortable with the sitter and then drop Fluffy off on your way to the Magic Kingdom.
For the true dog lover, this is lights-out a much better approach than the resort. Clicks one, bricks zero. Whether it’s a brilliant business idea for these start-up companies is another matter. It’s a simple, easily replicable idea and the sitters themselves—the concept’s only real asset—will cluster around the company that charges them the smallest commission. If not already, “net dogging” will soon enough become a business of razor-thin profit margins.
Whether betting on dogs for anything but unquestioning love is a good idea may be open to question, but these companies (or their successors) are here to stay. They embody one of the net’s best attributes—finding the personal needle in a haystack with just a click—and serve a need far better than the old school approach.