What it’s like to rent a shelter dog (amazing)

What it's like to rent a shelter dog (amazing)

08 Mayıs 2018 - 02:00

I’m probably not the person Camden County had in mind when they launched a “rent-a-dog” program at the animal shelter last week.

It's been years since I had a pet of my own.

I was about 10 years old and was out taking, Rex, our family's German Shepherd, for a walk in our West Philadelphia neighborhood when he got off his leash and was hit by a car. We had to put him down.

Insert your sappy animal movie with a sad ending. Yeah, it was like that.

That was the last time I had a pet — until Tuesday.



Cassandra, a 4-year-old pit bull mix, takes a break during a visit to the park with NJ Advance Media reporter Bill Duhart, Tuesday, May 1, 2018. Cassandra was one of the dogs available in the Rent-A-Dog program at the Camden County Animal Shelter.

Tim Hawk | For NJ.com

In an attempt to unite dog lovers with shelter pups who are aching for a day out in the fresh air, Camden County is now encouraging people (over 18 with a driver’s license) to participate in the “rent-a-dog” program.

“Many people would love to own a dog but for one reason or another are unable to. This is a great opportunity for you to enjoy the company of a dog and de-stress while giving them some much needed time out of the shelter,” said Freeholder Jonathan Young, liaison to the Camden County Animal Shelter.

Three hours in the park with a pooch on a day where the temps were flirting with 80 degrees? Not a bad day at work. Sure, why not?

Since it’s been decades since I had a furry friend at my side, I’m a little rusty when it comes to caring for a dog. Thankfully, I had a resident expert at my side — photographer Tim Hawk is a proud poppa of three pups — and the county walks you through the basics before heading out.

Before getting matched up with my doggie day date, dozens of thoughts swarmed through my head.

  • Would the dog be housebroken? (Yes, they all are.)
  • Do I need to buy food or a leash? (No, the shelter provides you with pet treats and a leash.)
  • What if the dog isn’t friendly? (They screen the dogs before signing them up for the program.)
  • What happens if the dog gets hurt or hurts someone else? (The county has you sign a waiver in which you assume all of the liability. But it also gives you an emergency number to call for assistance.)



Mike Bricker, director of shelter operations at the Camden County Animal Shelter, walks Cassandra, a 4-year-old pit bull mix, to meet NJ Advance Media reporter Bill Duhart, 

Tim Hawk | For NJ.com

The shelter in Blackwood holds up to 120 dogs at any given time. About half of those are up for adoption, officials said. The other half are being held as strays or some other adjudication or are still being evaluated.

Only about five dogs a day are available for the rent-a-dog program because that’s an amount the shelter staff can easily manage checking out and in on any given day, manager Mike Bricker said. The shelter has a variety of dogs it takes in, including some highly sought after breeds like a French bulldog.

But just about all of the dogs in the rental program, so far, are pit bulls and most are rescue animals from Camden.

That’s how Cassandra came into their lives — and into mine.



Cassandra, a 4-year-old pit bull mix, was one the dogs available in the Rent-A-Dog program at the Camden County Animal Shelter. On her cage was a card describing her as a "snuggle buddy."

Tim Hawk | For NJ.com


A four-year-old pit bull mix, Cassandra was found in Camden in January and has called the shelter her home since — a much longer stay than the average two weeks.

We walked past about 40 kennels full of dogs, most of them barking and jumping against the caged fronts, some with such energy they knocked over buckets of water inside.

Cassandra sat in her cage near the end of the room, actively observing the cacophony, but barely participating.

As if we were on some kind of dogs-and-humans Match.com (is there an app for that? Maybe there should be.) her handlers told me she was “a snuggle buddy to hang out with for hugs. Not the kind of dog to be a jogging partner but more suited as a partner for an evening of Netflix.”

“Under pressure, in unfamiliar surroundings, with unfamiliar people, no dogs do better than pits,” Bricker told me.

She seemed to be the dog for me.


Tim Hawk | For NJ.com

Although, with the sun shining bright and a park around the corner from my home in Collingswood calling our name, Netflix wasn’t on the plan for the day.

A short time later we sat in the “get acquainted room,” where Cassandra was brought in on a leash and quickly started making friends with me and Tim, who clearly speaks fluent dog, or so it seemed. He rubbed and scratched her on the right places, behind the ears, at the base of the back, and got the desired results: lots of affection and sloppy wet kisses. I took note of his technique.

Bricker and Sara Sharp, the foster placement coordinator, went over some basics of care, including how to adjust the leash, and after 10 minutes of paperwork we were on our way.




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