Pets Shouldn’t Be For Rent

If the dog of your dreams is not in your budget, Wags Lending is here to help.  The Nevada-based company says it’s an “alternative financing option to help you take home that pet TODAY.”

At first blush, the website seems like a clever parody from The Onion.  A promotional video features a sketch of “Jack” and “Diane” standing in front of a two-story Colonial that must have three or four bedrooms under its nicely pitched roof, but instead of children, Jack and Diane seek to fill their empty home and arms with “Spot.”   Ain’t that America, at least America in 2017.

Unfortunately, in this little ditty about Jack and Diane, the couple can’t afford Spot, what with the student loans and mortgage payments.  But thanks to Wags Lending, they can lease him.

“Wags is a closed-end consumer lease with fixed monthly payments and early purchase options throughout the term of the lease,” the company discloses forthrightly.  More ominously: “The lease guarantees the lessee the right to possess and use the property during the course of the lease, however the right of ownership is still with the lessor.”

That seems pretty clear. Adorable Spot is “property” that is “used” and can be confiscated at the end of the lease, sooner if Jack and Diane miss a payment.

If John Mellencamp isn’t enraged, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals should be. But except for a few malcontents who didn’t read the big print on their contracts, the internet is largely silent about the fact that when your rent-a-pet contract expires, the dog can be leased to someone else.

Leasing a dog is not the moral equivalent of leasing a car, or even a horse. Moreover, as Bloomberg reported, people are entering into contracts with the company believing that they are buying Fido and Fluffy over time.  It is, in one deceptively shiny corner of the internet, a snapshot of what happens when age-old values are trampled by expedience and desire. 

How much is that puppy in the window? Everyone knows the answer, which is:  If you have to ask, you can’t afford it, and therefore shouldn’t buy it, especially with a payment scheme that takes into account “depreciation” of the “property.”   And puppies don’t belong in windows anyway; pets, like children, aren’t something you lease.

The mastermind behind Wags Lending, Bloomberg reported earlier this year, is Dusty Wunderlich, a self-described “entrepreneur, cryptocurrency trader-miner and economic theorist.”  On his personal website, he lists Jesus Christ, Ayn Rand, King Solomon and Blaise Pascal among his most influential people, and also says he embraces cowboy ethics, that is, the “Code of West” which includes the maxim “Remember that some things aren’t for sale.” 

That’s a fitting motto for someone who believes the future of the U.S. marketplace is leasing, and that it’s okay, even laudable, to make money off sub-prime borrowers who are moved by passion to purchase more dog than they can afford.  Wunderlich knows his market and told Patrick Clark of Bloomberg that he likes “niches where we’re dealing with emotional borrowers.”

“When I take a good hard look at what the world will be like in 10 years, I think most things are going to be on lease,” Wunderlich said.

With the advent of Wags Leasing, “most things” already are, making America look more like a Buddhist nation than a Christian one, a key doctrine being impermanence. The wisdom of Wunderlich notwithstanding, few financial advisers recommend leasing furniture or cars, let alone pets, but we still do it. You can even rent an engagement ring these days.

The only social good that remains beyond the reach of predatory lenders is children, although before the official age of fake news began with the 2016 presidential election, the tabloid Weekly World News ran a story about a “Rent-A-Baby” program in which couples could take home a newborn for eight weeks to see how they liked parenting. It was probably not true, but now I wonder.

Meanwhile, the company that started Wags Lending has filed for bankruptcy, and after the Bloomberg article was published, Nevada legislators moved swiftly to ban dog leasing in that state.  Operators for Wags Lending, however, are still standing by to help Jack and Diane finance the dog of their dreams.

Here’s a radical idea: Instead of asking people to choose between twelve- or twenty-four-month financing, they could ask Jack and Diane how they propose to pay for Spot’s vaccinations, his grooming, his Halloween costume and his day care, and who will finance the inevitable visit to the after-hours emergency clinic when he consumes a corndog stick, or worse. Also, they probably should know that the sticky-tape dispensers they will need to get dog hair off everything cost more than a pumpkin-spice latte.  Nobody ever tells you about that.

Dogs are expensive. Children are too, but with better longevity and the potential, with much training and cajoling, to have a conversation and take out the trash.

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