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Don't Own a Pet? Rent-a-Dog Comes to Central Park

By Amy Zimmer | June 12, 2012 8:01am | Updated on June 13, 2012 4:05pm
Katherine Long with her dog Ocho in Central Park on June 2, 2012. She "rented" him out for walks to raise money for an animal rescue group.
Katherine Long with her dog Ocho in Central Park on June 2, 2012. She "rented" him out for walks to raise money for an animal rescue group.
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Facebook/Katherine Long

MANHATTAN — As a graduate student, Katherine Long doesn't have deep pockets for giving to charity.

So, instead of reaching for her checkbook, she came up with a more creative idea to support one of her favorite causes.

In the spirit of homegrown lemonade stands, Long hand-wrote a sign advertising "Rent-a-dog" in Central Park on a Saturday afternoon earlier this month. For $5, park-goers could take her "gentle" and "lovable" Collie/flat-coated retriever mix, Ocho, for a 20-minute walk.  

"It's spreading the word about rescue groups," she said. "People see my dog and say, 'I'm hanging out with a rescue dog, and the dog is pretty awesome.'"

Long sent the proceeds to Ruff Start Rescue, the Westchester-based group that brought Ocho to New York from a "high kill" shelter in South Carolina in February.

"I have always been a dog lover," said Long, 31, who began volunteering with animal shelters when she was in high school.

"When I lived in New York City, I always wanted a dog, but knew my apartment and lifestyle in New York would not work with a dog," she said. "But I always thought it would be great to have access to a dog temporally while in the park."

When Long lived in her small Manhattan apartment with roommates, she fostered dogs but did not get her own until she moved to Connecticut after getting married.

Now Long, who just finished her first year in a PhD program for developmental psychology at Fordham University, has Ocho and another rescue dog, Isla, a Shepherd/Labrador mix, rescued from a high kill shelter in Tennessee.

In two hours, she signed up 12 walkers for Ocho and met others willing to donate money.  Many kids gave her loose change, she said.

Long said she raised more than $100 and sent a note to Ruff Rescue saying it was "raised by sharing Ocho's love in the park."

Lori Canale, of Ruff Start Rescue, said she hadn't yet received the donation, but when told of Long's method she called it "very cool."  

"Not only is it an amazing idea, but it was awesome that she did it," Canale said. "It's like multi-tasking. I'm very grateful to her."

Canale said she's never heard of someone who's done anything like Long, though she knows of kids who have asked for donations to the organization instead of birthday presents.

"Every single person who stopped by had a great big smile on their face," Long recalled. "I had families rent for their kids, couples rented who were considering adopting their own dog and, of course, the single guy used it as a ploy to perhaps attract a date."

Some New Yorkers were worried about Long trusting strangers with her dog.

"I lied," Long admitted. "I said I have a tracking device on him."

She took people's names and cell phone numbers, sending a text message reminder five minutes before their time with Ocho was up.

After a little more than two hours, the dog was exhausted.

"We would have stayed longer, but Ocho was so tired," Long said. "He slept the entire 45-minute ride home."

Long said she received unsolicited advice from park-goers, who advised her to raise her prices.

"As someone who is a student, I don't want to make prices high," she said.

She's planning her next Rent-a-Dog outing in Central Park just inside the West 85th pedestrian entrance to Central Park on July 1, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Because Long had a waitlist for Ocho's walks, on her next outing she's planning to also bring Isla, her dog who loves to play Frisbee.

Editor's note: DNAinfo initially reported that Rent-a-Dog would be in Central Park on June 30, but due to unforseen circumstances, Katherine Long is only expected on July 1.