Here is the dirty little secret about lap dogs, said Denise Zwerling, a stay-at-home mother on the Upper East Side: “They really try to dominate your lap.” When you’re in a room with 10 or 20 of them, “It’s a challenge trying to keep them all happy.”
That doesn’t stop Ms. Zwerling from trying. Biscuits & Bath, a chain of doggy day care centers in Manhattan, runs a “Buddy program” for volunteers who want to run with the poodles, but can’t have one full-time. Since Ms. Zwerling’s building doesn’t allow dogs, she and her son have found B&B to be a neat compromise.
There is nothing casual about becoming a Buddy. You fill out an application, which includes a request for three references; go in for an interview; and, if you make the cut, plunk down $25. You get a Buddy T-shirt (“The Most Fun Your Dog Can Have Without You”) and a pass to come and play with dogs whenever you want at any of the company’s 13 locations in Manhattan. So far there are about 500 Buddies, with 15 to 20 new applications a month.
“I mean, look, people want to play with dogs, and it was like, ‘Why not?’” said David Maher, the manager of sales and marketing for Biscuits & Bath. Buddies are volunteers; they do not replace regular paid attendants.
“The dogs get more oversight and human attention, and you aren’t required to pick up poo or anything like that,” Mr. Mahler said. During the interview, prospective volunteers must answer questions about their previous experience with dogs, and are given a brief orientation on dog behavior. People have been turned down for being fearful or clueless.
The idea of paying to interact with favorite animals for money is not exactly new. Miraval Resorts in Arizona has an “Equine Experience” program, where, among other things, you can meditate with your horse, or use it as a living canvas for $75.
Here are some other ways Americans are fussing over their domestic animals.
Still, the idea that you are paying money to play with someone else’s dog makes some folks a little tetchy. “So, pet owners are paying and buddies are paying to do B&B’s work for them?” asked Fran Shapiro, a real estate broker. “Can you imagine if your sitter charged people to play with your kids?”
Lisa DePaulo, a writer and the mother of Joey Obama, a 9-year-old Havanese, was indignant. “You want to play with a dog? I’ll only charge you 20 bucks and you can come over and walk Joey,” she said.
Why not volunteer at a shelter, some consulted wondered, instead of playing with dogs that, by virtue of being at Biscuits & Bath, are by definition well cared for? Well, for some Buddies, there’s a very good reason: At this point in their lives they can’t have a dog, and don’t want to be tempted to get one.
Steven Doppelt, a marketing executive at a cable news station, was devastated when Tyrone, his ailing basset hound died late last year. Biscuits & Bath was already a part of his life, and during Tyrone’s last year he would cart Tyrone over in his little red wagon to spend the day. Tyrone and Steven loved the place. So when Tyrone died, Steven, who had had dogs all his life, was looking for ways to heal.
His favorite charge is a basset named Sadie. “I get to be the fun uncle,” Mr. Doppelt said.
Will he be a daddy again?
“I’m not in an emotional place yet to make that commitment, and I don’t want to be tempted,” Mr. Doppelt said. “But I’ll get there.”