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Hong Kong's rent-a-pet unleashes row

Hong Kong Sharpei
Pet prices have skidded in recession-hit Hong Kong  

From Andrew Brown
CNN Correspondent

HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- A pet shop owner in recession-weary Hong Kong has come up with a novelty way to boost his business.

Instead of just selling dogs and cats -- he has decided to rent them out.

Store owner Danny Tam, who started the idea in Hong Kong, said he came up with the business to help revive flagging sales.

Pet prices have fallen in recent years due to a weak economy. A golden retriever, which cost $1,200 during the 1990's, is now priced at $400.

The venture, according to Tam, has proven to be such a commercial success that sales have increased five-fold since he launched his pet rental program.

Tam said the practice encourages customers to feel more confident to buy if they can try pets out before making a firm commitment and is convenient for them because they are being given a kind of guarantee.

"If you are feeling that the dog is not healthy, you can return the dog," Tan said.

Customers can return the dogs if they are not happy with them
Customers can return the dogs if they are not happy with them  

Customers are only obligated to pay a small rental charge, which is based on the purchase price of the dog.

A huge dog such as a Great Dane could be rent out for $64 a day.

Two months ago, a customer rented a Shetland sheep dog for $19 dollars a day.

She tested the dog out at home, anxious to see if it would get along with another sheep dog she'd bought a few years earlier.

Happily the two canines had great chemistry so the customer exercised her option to buy the rented pet.

"After a few weeks if you find it is suitable -- you can just keep the dog for good," said pet renter Diana Lo.

Disposable asset

While the strategy has helped kick-start Tan's limping pet sales, not everyone is applauding it.

Hong Kong's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stopped short of describing the practice as revolting, arguing that an animal should not be leased out like a disposable asset.

"I actually can't even believe someone has come up with this idea. Renting something to me is like renting a house or renting a car. It's a commodity that you are going to use for a short period of time and then dispose of," said Pauline Taylor from the SPCA.

Though Tan admits his is more of a business strategy, he says the program is actually pet-friendly because people can easily return the animals instead of dumping them on the streets.

Despite the fact that most apartments in Hong Kong have a no-dog policy, Tan said over 90 percent of his customers have not returned their animals.

This is mainly because people become easily attached to their rented wards. And people who do bring their animals back do so reluctantly.

Kylie Leung was heartbroken when a dog she hoped would be a companion for her Japanese Spitz had to be returned because it barked too much.

"I kept missing the dog, even though I only had it for two days," Leung said.

Nonetheless, animal lovers in Hong Kong remain split. Some are opposed in principle and in practice to renting pets, while others say it makes perfect sense to keep a dog on a short lease.


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