The London-based start-up borrowmydoggy matches dog owners in need of help with animal lovers who crave canine company.

Rikke Rosenlund’s life-changing epiphany came in the shape of a chocolate-colored labrador named Aston. At the time, the Danish-born Londoner was enjoying an aspirational urbanite lifestyle: Successful in her career, she worked long hours and jetted from business trip to city break.

And yet, Rikke had a feeling that something was missing. When, one day, her neighbors asked her to babysit adorable Aston, the penny dropped: The love of dog would make her happiness complete – as long as it didn’t tie her down.

“It was at this moment that I realized this could be a business idea,” says Rikke, her voice bright and enthusiastic. “I thought: Why would anyone spend money on a dog walker or kennel when there are lots of people like me who would love to take care of a dog for free. It would be a win-win situation: Dogs would get more exercise and owners more time off knowing that their dogs are safe.”

It was the start of the sharing economy applied to pooches.

borrowmydoggy founder and her dog
borrowmydoggy .com founder Rikke and her (borrowed) dog Elvis.
Photo: borrowmydoggy

From neighborhood posters to 300,000 members

Rikke started small: Over a workshop weekend, she built a rudimentary landing site and advertised her offer by putting up posters in the neighborhood. The response was encouraging: 85 people registered their interest.

“I got enquiries from an Australian student who was missing his dogs Down Under, from an old man on crutches who needed help taking his dog for walkies, and from a family with a little girl who really wanted to try out a dog. That e-mail made me cry: A little girl without a dog, I couldn’t have that.”

“I know that 60-70 % of start-ups fail within the first two years,” Rikke – who has an MBA – explains. “It’s key that you actually solve someone’s problem and not just do something that you want to do; that you offer something that makes a difference.”

She seems to have succeeded. Two and a half years later, has 300,000 members all over the British Isles. The dogs on offer are just as varied as the potential borrowers: Labrador puppy Maisie is “very confident, with an adventurous spirit, loves playing tug and enjoys learning new tricks.” Rudi is a retriever who is “very lovely” and “has never bitten other dogs or people” – owner Jil would like someone to look after him while she goes to visit her mom.

Kahlo, a shaggy little cross in fashionable sunglasses, loves having her chest tickled but barks when left alone. Now her owner is chronically ill, Kahlo doesn’t get to run around the park as much as she’d like to.

group of people borrowmydoggy with borrowed dog
The perfect match: Posey (center) gets a double dose of love from his owners (right) and borrowers (left).
Photo: borrowmydoggy

Borrowers from all walks of life

Borrowers come from all walks of life – they include entrepreneurs, freelancers, students, retirees, and entire families. Some just want a dog part-time; others want to test the waters before taking the leap and getting a mutt of their own. Others still already have a dog of their own and look for another pooch to keep it company – the more, the terrier.

For Rikke, the benefits are clear: “When you borrow a dog, you get more exercise, you go outside, and meet new people. And the love of a dog is just priceless – they love you when you love them.”

But can you trust a stranger with your beloved pet? Rikke recommends that borrower and lender sniff each other out first.

“It’s all about getting to know the other side really well. It’s just like having a babysitter or a nanny – you wouldn’t hand over your kid to a perfect stranger. We encourage several house visits (or ‘Welcome Woofs’) before you take a dog out.

borrowmydoggy smart fortwo with dog
This dog enjoys a ride in the smart fortwo.
Photo: borrowmydoggy

It’s a chance to share information about the pet – their eating habits, likes, and dislikes – and ensure there’s a good match. Everybody has to be happy, including the dog!”

Of course, a dog’s life wouldn’t be complete if adversity didn’t bite at times. Rikke has thought of that, too: For the occasional dog fight, provides an insurance policy. And if a whippet doesn’t feel quite with it, concerned borrowers can call a 24/7 vet helpline to get advice or be directed to the nearest emergency room.

As any good businesswoman should, Rikke lives her brand: Even though her life has become more flexible, she still prefers no strings when it comes to canines.

“I don’t have to own a dog if that means it just ends up home alone. So why not help out local owners? It’s great for me: If I don’t want to be a mom, I can be a great auntie. And best of all: I make another person happy.”