Rent-a-pet businesses help out owners in Switzerland, where some pets must come in pairs.
Guinea pigs are naturally social creatures. That's why the Swiss government considers it a form of animal abuse to own only one guinea pig at a time due to the rodent's socializing skills. Guinea pigs are herd animals, and Switzerland says this makes a solo cavy prone to loneliness.
In 2008, a wave of animal rights passed through the Swiss legal system, leading to a revamped law on cat ownership as well. Felines are also considered social creatures (though some cat owners would consider their pets quite far from gregarious).
This led to a law saying that strictly indoor cats must have a purry partner in crime in their household. If the cat can go in and out and watch the world go by through a window, only then is it permissible to own a loner cat.
Dogs, birds, farm animals and even fish have their own set of protection laws, too. Other European countries have followed suit, with Sweden enacting similar laws and Australia following close behind with animal rights efforts.
But some pet owners fall into an ethical and practical dilemma when one of a pair of social pets dies. Many owners do not want to commit to the life of another companion, but by law, they are required to make another addition to the family.
Thankfully, a handful of animal guardian angels are saving pet owners from this tricky situation. Matchmaker rent-a-pet businesses have been set up to pair sociable creatures.
Priska Küng of Zürich runs a rent-a-guinea pig service, offering a temporary placement of one of these rodents in a household that has just lost a cavy. Her home is shared with around 80 of the herbivorous squeakers, old and young, in addition to a smaller menagerie of rabbits, cats, mice, and hamsters.
Küng's business and others like it prevent owners from having to commit to another guinea pig or other pet that realistically will be younger and not die at the same time as the original lone survivor.
Without these rent-a-pet options, pet owners are caught in an endless cycle of pet ownership when they might be ready to pass off the torch but not want to give up on their lifelong companions. The rental agreement nips this problem in the bud with owners only making a temporary commitment to the adopted replacement.
The pet rental business is not lucrative, so if you're thinking to move to Europe and launch a start-up, don't be in it for the money. But if you have a heart for guinea pigs, cats, parrots, or any other animals, sociable or not, a rental pet menagerie might be the career opportunity you've been looking for.