March 30, 2008 For a Temporary Best-Friend Fix, Rent a Dog (Kibble Included) for a Day By VINCENT M. MALLOZZI Sarah Stevenson scampered through a heavy rain one recent Friday evening, arriving at a Manhattan rental agency just before it closed. Ms. Stevenson, a 26-year-old nurses aide from Brooklyn, had reserved a compact cutie with a lot of spunk for tooling around on the weekend. The man behind the counter went and fetched it from a pillow in another room. Hi, hi, hi, Ms. Stevenson said with a smile that kept getting wider. How have you been, my handsome boy? I missed you. Ms. Stevenson picked up Oliver, a 3-year-old cockapoo half cocker spaniel, half poodle whom she had rented before. Last weekend, I didnt want to bring him back because we were having the best time, she said as she ran her fingers through Olivers tan curly locks. The agency was Flexpetz, which rents dogs that have been rescued from animal shelters in the hope that they will eventually be adopted. Flexpetz operates out of the Wet Nose Doggy Gym at 34 East 13th Street, which provides day care and boarding for dogs. The company started in San Diego and opened in Los Angeles in June and in New York in October. It plans to expand to Boston, Washington, San Francisco and London. There are a lot of people out there looking for companionship, said Chris Haddix, 28, who runs the New York branch of Flexpetz. There are usually five or six dogs available for rent, many of them on display in the Wet Nose storefront window, attracting crowds. Ms. Stevenson explained why she was a customer: Im single and moved here from Scotland two years ago, and its been difficult to meet people because everyone in New York just kind of goes about their business. But when Im walking around with Oliver, I seem to get into so many conversations about him. It becomes a nice way to meet people. But it isnt cheap. A monthly membership, which includes four one-day rentals, costs $279.95. Additional rentals cost $45 for a day, or part of a day. Anyone interested must first register at www.flexpetz.com before meeting Mr. Haddix. I ask them a lot of questions, he said. I want to know if they have ever owned a dog, why they cant own a dog full time, how renting a dog benefits them, stuff like that. If the head office in San Diego gives the go-ahead, there is a mandatory one-hour training session on handling and training. Then members can choose one of the dogs pictured on the Web site for rental. Mr. Haddix said his customers were a mixed bunch. There are people from other states and other countries who couldnt take their dogs with them when they were transplanted to New York, he said, and there are families with small children who enjoy taking these dogs on vacation with them. There are also people who live in places that do not allow pets, and a lot of single people who wouldnt mind just hanging out with a pal every now and then. There are all sorts of reasons for renting dogs, said Mr. Haddix, who is studying for a masters degree in philosophy at the New School for Social Research when he is not studying the qualifications of prospective renters. Mr. Haddix noted that big dogs are rented out on the West Coast, where the dogs generally have more room to roam, and smaller dogs are rented in New York, where, as he put it, many people live in apartments the size of coat closets. Stacy Faulkner, 39, is a Flexpetz client in San Diego. She has been married for 10 years and does not have children, she said, so renting a dog can really fill a void. Two years ago, her 10 ½-year-old Rottweiler, Kaya, died. When you dont have kids, Mrs. Faulkner explained, your animals are like your own children, or a new best friend. Kaya was a great dog, and I really miss her, she said. Im not ready yet to get another full-time dog I cant make that kind of emotional commitment. To fill the void, Mrs. Faulkner has been renting for the past eight months. She has returned time and again to rent Charlie, a 4-year-old black dachshund. When she visits New York, she rents a 2-year-old miniature Doberman pinscher named Nixon, who was rented on a recent Friday to a family in Port Jefferson, N.Y. After Mr. Haddix handed Oliver to Ms. Stevenson, along with a leash and a bag filled with kibble, he closed shop for the night and said that he was going home to his cat. I love my cat, Mr. Haddix said of Stoli, his 6-year-old Maine coon, before turning out the lights, and no, hes not for rent.