Why you should care

Because now you can have all creatures, great and small, delivered. 

Buying a pet has always been a long-term commitment with little opportunity for second-guessing or cold feet. You may have been able to court your spouse and test-drive that Honda, but chances are you had no idea Buster was a crotch-sniffer when you first brought him home. The days of being stuck with an unwanted animal, though, may be coming to an end — thanks to a new service that could revolutionize pet ownership.

The Netflix-inspired offering known as Petflix, which launches this fall, offers prospective pet owners “flexibility, choice, control and personalization,” says CEO Bradley Pound, who got his start repossessing farm animals for the state of Kansas.

Many customers quickly found themselves engaged in uncontrollable “binge petting.”

The service allows customers to swap out pets at any time, liberating owners from multiyear relationships that aren’t working out and providing them with a broader range of “pet experiences.” “There has been this major paradigm shift in the way consumers shop, pay for and manage the services they choose,” Pound says. “And this shift has occurred everywhere except for the pet industry.”

Until now.

Once just a crude college joke, Petflix allows customers to rent up to three different pets at a time, with the option of mailing pets back to convenient distribution centers, which will replace the returned pet with a new one within three to five business days. Petflix subscribers are able to choose from up to 300 species of animal, and also to specify age, size, breed and sex. The service not only allows subscribers to sample new pets without committing to ownership but also to pause the service, which facilitates lengthy vacations and prevents the need to pay a kennel to look after inconvenient animals.

Petflix is not without its skeptics, though. Early trial runs revealed that many customers quickly found themselves engaged in uncontrollable “binge petting.” “I stayed up until four in the morning for about seven straight weeks, trying out all 29 breeds of terrier,” says Karen Haberdasher, a mother of three. “I haven’t been that tired at work since the final season of Lost.”

Still, Pound is confident that the benefits of Petflix will win over its critics. And there are many — benefits, that is.

As economist Laura Markinson explains, “Pets have had a free ride for far too long.” She claims that “Petflix not only maximizes consumer choice and flexibility, but there is no better tool for disciplining your animal than the credible threat of market exit. If your dog thinks that you are taking him on what might be his final walk, then he is going to be on his best behavior.”

Which raises the question of who is to blame if a rental pet isn’t behaving. In Italy, the city of Naples, for example, announced that it would start DNA testing dog waste to link it to the dogs’ owners. But if, as economists have long argued, there is no incentive to wash a rental car, will there be any reason for Petflix subscribers to pick up a rented animal’s, ahem, business?

For that at least, Pound doesn’t have an answer. In fact, he changes the subject. Even animal rights advocates, he boasts, are on board with the new service. As one such activist Horace Coddle puts it, “For too long humans have referred to themselves as ‘owners’ of animals, treating them like chattel whose offspring can be bought and sold into further slavery.”

Under Petflix, however, as Markinson points out, “Animals are no longer ‘owned’; they are valued companions whose futures will be shaped by the benevolent hand of the market. These animals have the dignity that free choice affords and the responsibility that it demands.”

It’s hard to imagine Netflix delivering that.

Before you sign up to have your pet delivered, please refer to the date of this article. Happy April Fools’ Day!

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