In an age of subscription services and the idea that it might be better to subscribe to things rather than own things this might be a moment to discuss the undiscussed, to rent a cat rather than to own one.
Before people become excited in a bad way about the suggestion I’d like to remind them that the University Of California Press blog states that the famous Mark Twain, who we know loved cats, was proud of the fact that he rented cats for the summer months. They were returned to their homes after the rental period. I’m not sure how the arrangements were made but let’s just say that he rented rather than owned them.
The concept, therefore, of renting a cat is not brand-new. The concept, as it happens, sits quite nicely in respect of our relationship with the domestic cat. A lot of people would argue that we cannot own our cats. You can’t own a domestic cat although legally you do. You simply live with your cat and share your home with her. The idea of owning a domestic cat does not sit very comfortably in the minds of many cat owners. This is because the cat is a sentient being.
Domestic cats do not behave as if they are owned. Many domestic cats, allowed outside, walk away from their owners and settle into new homes. Either that or they share homes. In the Middle East and Far East they have community cats which are domestic or semi-domestic cats living in the community. They are fed and cared for by people living in the same community. These cats do not live with a single person or family. In many respects, community cats are a somewhat like rented cats because individuals spend time with them and then move on to what they normally do. The relationship is temporary.
Cat foster carers, volunteers who look after cats temporarily because there been abandoned or are unwanted, have a relationship with their cats akin to renting a cat. They don’t pay any money because they are volunteers but they look after cats for a set period and then give them up to a new owner. This can be difficult psychologically which is a barrier to the concept of renting a cat.
I’m sure that many foster carers (I was one of them) end up adopting the cats that they are fostering because they become attached to them. However many don’t; they enjoy looking after their cats for a set period of time.
Rent-a-cat might be a concept which is workable and which cat shelters might consider adopting. Their clients, rather than adopting a cat and paying adoption fee, could pay a subscription to a rescue center to look after a cat for a set period of time, say six months. After the six months, they can either return or adopt him or her.
An advantage of this process is that adopters are likely to come forward more freely. This is because their decision to look after a cat has an opt out clause rather than being for the life of the cat. It is a big decision to adopt a cat in terms of owning the cat because it is a 15 or more year enterprise costing around $15,000 in maintenance. It should reduce relinquishments.
Rent-a-cat would attract more people who are interested in adopting a cat but who are unsure. Renting a cat is between ownership and fostering. Foster carers don’t pay for the pleasure of looking after their cats but cat renters would pay for the privilege. They could be supported by the animal rescue center. Support could be part of the service. It would allow the animal rescue center to charge more to rent one of their cats. Support would also ensure better standards of cal welfare by the ‘renter’. A subscription service would open the door to selling clients other services e.g. cat sitting, food, veterinary services, grooming etc..
Once you have subscribers you start to understand your client base. You have a relationship with them which allows you to sell services. The fact is that human nature means that subscribers retain their subscriptions even when they know that it is not wise to do so. It’s a kind of inertia which allows this to happen. This inertia helps with the profitability of a subscription service.
The obvious and most outstanding barrier to rent-a-cat under a subscription service is that cats take time to settle into new homes. It can take six months or more. However, I don’t think the barrier is insurmountable. It depends partly on how the cat has been socialized. In any event, cats come out of their shell after about a week or so. I believe a meaningful relationship can be established quite quickly as evidenced by the success of fostering.
Shift to subscription services
There is also a trend, especially in the UK but perhaps in America as well, away from ownership of things to subscribing to things, by which I mean temporary ownership. It even applies to cars nowadays. Hyundai and other companies now offer subscriptions to cars. These are not leasing agreements but genuine subscriptions. You pay a monthly fee, not for a specific vehicle but for the use of one which you could switch every month if you want to.
The chief executive of Volvo expects that one in five of their cars will be delivered via a subscription service by 2023. A silicon valley entrepreneur, Tien Tzuo, believes that there has been a “secular shift” in the way that companies do business. By 2020 more than 80% of software providers will be subscription businesses.
The domestic cat may be an ideal partner to the concept of subscription services rather than ownership. This is a discussion document. Rent-a-cat will not suit everybody but it might suit a significant percentage of people and it might save lives.