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The Pet Doctor, Your Pet Health Matters on PetLifeRadio.comBernadine D. Cruz, DVM, host of The Pet Doctor

Bernadine D. Cruz, DVM
Veterinary Media Consultant

Tears of Joy for Cat Allergic People
& Flexible Pet Ownership

Marlena Cervantes of FlexPetz

Marlena Cervantes

It is not unusual to covet what you canít have. Cats are the number one pet in the United States but millions of people who would love to own one canít. Often it is because they suffer with the singular most common cause of itchy eyes and runny noses in peopleÖcat allergies. Now, thanks to Allerca Lifestyle Pets, any tears they shed around these unique cats will be tears of joy. These cats are guaranteed hypoallergenic.

Caring for a pet properly is a major commitment of time, money and love. When you bring a dog into your life, typically it is for life, their life. But what if you work long hours, travel a great deal or donít have the other resources that are needed? With the advent of a new concept and company, FlexPetz, you can experience the thrill of dog ownership on a more flexible basis.

Questions or comments? Email Dr. Cruz at:


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Announcer: Is your pet stressed out? Does your pet need annual vaccines? Which pet is best for a child? Would you know if your dog was in pain? Pet Life Radio presents the “Pet Doctor” where you learn everything about keeping your pet healthy and happy. From pet care, pet meds, and grooming to pet food, pet insurance, and dental care. This is the place to find out everything there is to know about pet wellness. Whether you have a dog, cat, reptile, or rabbit, you'll find answers for your pets straight from the vets because your pet health matters.

Please welcome your “Pet Doctor” host, veterinary media consultant and veterinarian, Dr. Bernadine Cruz.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Hello, you're listening to the “Pet Doctor” of I'm your host, Dr. Bernadine Cruz. Today’s guests are Simon Brodie, CEO of Allerca Lifestyle Pets. If you’ve always wanted a cat but just the thought of one starts you sneezing and itching all over, keep listening. Maybe you'd love to own a dog but your daily routine doesn’t provide you the time you need to properly care for one, Marlena Cervantes of FlexPets may have the answer for you. But if you already have a pet in your life, [xx] compose some unique challenges for them.

The following health tips are from Veterinary News Network, the online veterinarian-based site for reliable pet care information. According to VNN, keeping your pet safe during the winter season may take a little extra planning and preparation. A common poison to pets during the winter months is car anti-freeze. It's pleasant sweet taste masks a deadly poison. If you even suspect that your pet has consumed anti-freeze, contact your veterinarian or nearest emergency hospital immediately. Ice-melting products are also very dangerous.

Pets can suffer the effects of frostbite and hypothermia just as easily as their owners. If your pet must stay outside, be sure to provide them shelter from the wind and moisture. In this case, bigger is not better. Smaller shelters actually trap body heat more efficiently. Use heated water balls and replenish everyday if freezing is a concern in your area.

Know your pet’s limitations during the season. Older dogs may not be a sure footed on the ice and younger puppies may not have enough body fat to keep them warm in the snow. Wintertime can be glorious and full of family fun, it doesn’t have to involve a trip to the animal emergency room if a few simple precautions are taken. Talk to your family veterinarian about a winter check up for your pet. For more health tips, go to

We'll be right back after this short break.

Announcer: Please have a seat in the waiting room. The doctor will be with you shortly right after this message.

[radio break]

Announcer: Welcome back to the “Pet Doctor” on Pet Life Radio with Dr. Bernadine Cruz. The doctor is in and will see you now.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: So today we're speaking with Simon Brodie of Allerca Lifestyle Pets. Simon, I have to admit though I am a veterinarian, I'm allergic to cats and dogs. But I have the opportunity several months ago to play with one of your cats, Joshua, and I didn’t sneeze and itch or have any problems. What is a lifestyle pet?

Simon Brodie: The concept of a lifestyle pet really came to me a few years ago and it really revolved around looking at how we could take advances in scientific technologies such as genetics and use those to modify an existing animal pets so that it would really fit within today’s lifestyle, so that’s the tagline, so to speak. So the first project that we looked at, we looked at many of them, some of them are we don’t want to [xx] but the first one that really caught our attention was the development of a true hypoallergenic cat.

We felt that was the first what we would term lifestyle pet. So we were able to then looked at how we might be able to use genetic technologies. Of course, behind what causes people to be allergic in a cat was well known and so we felt that Science had advanced enough that we could look at producing a genuine hypoallergenic cat. Really until we successfully produced it beginning in 2006, until that time, there really weren’t many options.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: A lot of people think that a furless cat is going to be hypoallergenic or some people are allergic to domestic short hairs but, for instance, not to Siamese. So how was this a hypoallergenic cat? What makes it hypoallergenic?

Simon Brodie: There are many misconceptions, unfortunately, out there when it comes to cats and cat allergies. So let me just explain this, what are people really allergic to. What they're really allergic to in cats is a protein that the cat produces through its skin, in its saliva and in its urine. So what's interesting is that when you speak to a lot of people and they will tell you that they're allergic to dander, which is sort of a very generic term, they’ll tell you that they're allergic to cat hair. In fact, they're not allergic to cat hair, they have to be allergic to this very sticky protein that remains on cat hair and, of course, cats shed all the time.

Interesting that you mentioned the hairless cats. I've actually spoken to a number of people who have become [xx] who thought that because they were allergic to cat hair that the hairless cat would be ideal for them. In fact, they're very sweet cats and you usually actually like them very much but they're actually the worst cat you can have [xx]. If anything, the hair on a regular cat would act as a barrier if anything. It traps some of that protein that the cat produces and, of course, the hairless cat has no barriers, so to speak. If you pick up a hairless cat, it feels slightly greasy.

So what people are allergic to is this protein and all cats produce protein. Some may produce a little bit more than others, but it really has no immediate effect or it has a long term effect. That protein is very persistent and very sticky so even if you had a cat that produced less of the protein, over time, it's simply going to build up and build up and build up in your home environment. At which time, it's going to reach a threshold that if you are allergic, you're going to react. So that’s really in a nutshell what people are really allergic to.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Does the protein vary from breed to breed, for instance?

Simon Brodie: No, from what we've seen, the protein is identical. So regardless of the breed, the protein is identical. What we did, originally--again the protein is produced by a gene and looking at it from an untechnical point of view, a gene is the recipe. A gene is nature’s recipe to produce a protein, a certain variant of a protein. So originally, when we first started to look at producing our first lifestyle pet--the hypoallergenic cat--we looked at using advanced genetic techniques to essentially disrupt that protein. In other words, change the recipe. By changing the recipe, we aimed to produce a different flavor of the protein--if you want to call it--so that’s what we started to look at.

But at the same time, nature itself will produce mutations. We, as human beings, everybody has unique mutations. So we were aware that somewhere out there, there will be going to be cats that had a naturally-occurring mutation to that gene. Having done a lot of press, initially, when we announced this project, we then had a couple of people approached us and say, “Look, we're all allergic at home but we have a cat or cats here that we don’t react to.”

So we had developed some very sophisticated genetic tests to look at the gene and see if there was a variation.  When we tested these particular cats, lo and behold, they did have a natural occurring mutations. So we took those [xx] cats of which Joshua, the one that you mentioned, was one of them. We bred [sp] those with domestic short hairs and, fortunately, that genetic mutation was dominant and it transferred into the kittens. So the cats that we produced, this different flavor of protein, we believe and we think that the body doesn’t recognize it as an allergen. So even though the cat is still producing a protein, the body is simply not reacting which is, essentially, what happened to you when you spent time with one of our cats.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: With this new flavor of kitty, it sounds so there was no genetic engineering. People are very concerned about, “Ah, genetic mutations. You did something to the cat. This cat’s going to have other medical problems.” Is that true? You just found there were cats out there, there's normally occurring divergence and you just recognized them, you located them.

Simon Brodie: That’s correct. People sometime will say, “Well, that’s like [xx].” But in fact, not really because we had [xx] put out that we were going to develop this cat and there was a huge media interest. But at the same time, we developed this sophisticated test that would allow us to pinpoint any mutation. So to answer your question, these are naturally occurring mutations, they are naturally occurring cats, so to speak.

I guess, the big difference between what we are doing and what cat breeders have been doing for hundreds of years is that cat breeds have simply been developed where a kitten maybe born with a slightly longer tail or a bushier tail or bigger ears or whatever it might be. There's a visible mutations, we've spent years [xx] and bred from that line. What we've been able to do is to use genetic technologies, shall we say, inside the cat and say, “Well, there's a trait that we want to use as a foundation and breed into the next generations of cats.”

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Are there other factors other than this unique protein that makes people allergic to cats?

Simon Brodie: No. Cats actually have four allergens, they're known as Fel d 1 to Fel d 4. Fel d 1 is the big, nasty one. Fel d 1 is the one that most people react to. Now, we have seen the occasional sniffy, runny nose, and water [xx] it's very, very mild in our customers, in a couple of them when they first got the cats. Therefore, we're presuming they're reacting to Fel d 2 or what we call the minor allergens. But just by being exposed to them, they desensitized themselves really quickly and I'm talking about people who are richly off the charts when we test them for cat allergy. So these are extremely allergic people.

Our cats have a naturally occurring mutation. I always tell our customers that, “You might have a naturally occurring mutation that makes you the perfect candidate to react to this different protein.” But so far, we've had great response. We've delivered over hundred kittens and we delivered 30 in December alone where we're [xx] up deliveries. We've had great, great results and amazing response from our customers who see this as the only way that they now finally can own a cat.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: What do these kitties look like? I know, I've seen Joshua and you look at this cat thinking, “Oh, you're going to see something really unique and different.” I'm going, “Look’s like a cat to me.”

Simon Brodie: We've crossed this foundation cats, we call them, with domestic short hairs which are very, shall we say, cat-looking cats. They're tabbies, stripes and so on. So the offspring has just turned out to be very ordinary. You wouldn’t know it was a hypoallergenic cat in any way unless somebody told you. So they're very ordinary cats which was [xx] in short hair because they are very rugged, they don’t have some of the potential problems that the, shall we say, the high-end breeds have that have been bred in over many centuries. We didn’t really want to introduce anything that might become an [xx]. So far we've had great success from very healthy kittens.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: I had the chance to play with Joshua, I was so impress because this little kitty was involved in a media tour. Here is this cat being exposed to tons of different people, being handled, being played with, and had such a fantastic personality. Can you tell the listeners a little bit about how these kitties are bred and socialized before they get them?

Simon Brodie: It's actually very, very important what you’ve just mentioned. I think that people look at the price of the hypoallergenic cat and sometimes, they're taken a little bit aback. But to us, it was much more than, “Let's just produce a cat and send it to a customer and have the customer be on their way.” First of all, I would say 95% of our customers almost have never have own a kitten before. So we had to ensure that we were going to put a complete system of support in place. That really started with not only breeding healthy kittens but making sure that they were very well socialized.

So the socialization program, which was developed by a very well known animal behaviorist, really centers around the kitten’s being exposed to a lot of different scenarios, which primarily means being handled by different people, being played with by lots of different people. So ensuring that when a customer receives that kitten, that the customer isn't just the second person that the kitten’s ever seen.

There's some great breeders who breed kittens at home but, often, the problem is that the only person that kitten’s ever seen is the breeder. When it goes into a new home, it's a little bit traumatized. So our cats go through this fantastic socialization program. They are very well taken cared of.  In fact, I had a customer—a funny story--I had a customer from New York who called me a couple of days after we’d deliver a cat, he's convinced that we had trained his cat because it was so sociable and get along so well.

So in addition to this socialization, making sure that you don’t only have friendly cats, we also wanted to ensure that we provided as much support and so we came up with a very, very unique set of concepts. For example, we provide a year’s worth of veterinary insurance. Again, our cats are expensive and if something does happen, they are kittens, kitten is a live animal, anything can happen to them. We wanted to make sure that yes, there was a multi-thousand dollar [xx] that our customer wasn’t going to be lumbered with that so we include that.

Of course, when the customer sees the kitten, they're spayed and neutered, which is not only the right thing to do, they're also fully vaccinated, they're microchipped. Again, we didn’t want a customer getting a kitten and then having to drag it out to a veterinary clinic two days later to be spayed and neutered and microchipped and vaccinated and so on and so on. So we've really tried to put together a complete package--if you want to call it--so that when the customer sees the hypoallergenic kitten, and any of our pets, that there is this complete peace of mind. That they're ready to go and bond with this kitten, allow the kitten to become part of the family and not to have to worry about, “What else do I need to do?”

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: What happens if somebody adopts a cat? They’ve never have to learn before because they're so terribly allergic and they go, “Huh, I guess I'm not allergic to it but I really don’t want this kitten.” Then what happens?

Simon Brodie: We had it actually once before, there's this very nice customer and they had never had a cat, they like the idea of the cat. As it turned out, they were not allergic to cats, of course, they had no reaction to our cat. What I think they were more, shall we say, allergic to the idea of cat ownership. It wasn’t quite what they expected. So what we simply did, [xx] they’ve gotten in the car and drove to a very happy customer that lived 30 minutes down the road, a waiting customer was very surprised and pleased to get the kitten, and of course, we refunded the customer in full and that’s bound to happen. We have got a long waiting list anywhere from six to 12 months in the past, it's even longer. We know that circumstances can change, [xx] change. We've been happy to cancel that order and refund the customer the purchase price because there's always somebody out there ready and willing to take on that kitten.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Is it possible for the perspective cat owner to personally choose which cat they're going to get? For instance, I want a cat that’s a little tiger kitty with little white paws and little white chest.

Simon Brodie: It is possible. In the early days, we were producing still a few of these kittens that really we didn’t give customers the option because it would be unfair to them. We just never going to match up. What we do now is about two weeks before delivery, and we have a number of kittens ready to go out, those are matched with the same number of people on our waiting list. We would get on the phone, sit on the phone while we email pictures and say, “Look, this is what we have right now. You can see pictures.”

Most of our customers, I would say three-quarters, really are not fussy, they're just very keen to get a kitten, just in the last batch, nine kittens that we sent out. One of our customers really didn’t fancy any of the kittens, she was looking for something very specific and, of course, she will get then the first choice of the next 20 or so kittens that are coming through in the next few weeks. So we try to be as accommodating as possible. But of course, if somebody wants something very, very specific, we make them aware that they may have to wait a long time.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: What age are these kittens delivered and how are they delivered?

Simon Brodie: They are delivered anywhere from 10-12 weeks whenever our veterinarians feel that they are already ready to go. We use the major airline carriers and that’s proven to be very, very successful. We make sure that our customers are waiting at the airline, they get picked up, and they're ready to go. We tend to go direct flights and the kittens only go to the transport process for just a few hours. They come out in a [xx] and many, many stories as to how the kittens come home and they're happy, they're all over the place. Again, that comes down, I think, a little bit to the socialization as well.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Simon, you’ve mentioned several times that this is definitely an investment in a pet. How much do these Allerca lifestyle pets cost?

Simon Brodie: The cat that we're talking about is what we call the Allerca GD and GD is short for genetically divergent and that really is the first lifestyle pet that we came out with. Now, we also run a survey on our website for quite a long time but it's still there, but we asked people, “What would you like the next kitten to be?” There was a slant towards what I call the “exotic Asian” type cats. So we have produced a hypoallergenic version of the Siamese which we call the Chakan GD.

Then at the same time about six or seven months ago, we launched our first non-hypoallergenic lifestyle pet called the Ashera. Now, the Ashera is interesting because it's a high breed. It's a cross between an African Serval, Asian leopard cat and a domestic cat. Essentially, what that comes out with is what a lot of people have always wished for which is a beautiful kitten, a beautiful cat that grows up to almost 30 pounds, that has the looks and stripes of a leopard; very, very friendly; very, very affectionate. Just recently, we produced the hypoallergenic version.

So basically, Allerca GD is $6,000, the Chakan runs about $9,000. The Ashera is actually $22,000 and the hypoallergenic version of the Ashera is $27,000. What I can tell you is that we are sold out on high-end cats, the Asheras, especially the hypoallergenic versions for the whole of 2008. We sold nine over one weekend. So although the price sometimes shocks people a little bit, these hybrids are very exotic, very unique. Although we're not the first to produce a hybrid but I believe that we are the first to really standardized on these beautiful large, exotic hybrid. So there is the complete range.

We also have the Jabari, which is our first hypoallergenic dog, a real hypoallergenic dog. There's a lot of these Labradoodles and so on which people are allergic will tell you they’ve tried and simply don’t work. They will be available in 2009 priced at $15,000. Again, we have a pretty long waiting list for those.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Simon, if somebody wanted more information about the Ashera or your GD cats or dogs, these hypoallergenic animals, where can they go?

Simon Brodie: We have two websites and the first was to bring everything together. But they can go Right now, it shows a lot of information about the hypoallergenic cat. If you go to, you'll see some fantastic images on the Ashera. Then on the next few weeks, we're actually blending those two websites together and, of course, this is a big decision. We are always available and spend a long time on the phone with many of our customers. But it is unique, they do work, and we expect to have a number of very interesting lifestyle pets coming out in the next year including a very, very small cat that fully grown, we expected not to reach more than about a pound.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: So it's a pocket kitty.

Simon Brodie: Pocket kitty, there you go. Again, either the people want the really large cats or everybody likes the idea. Many people like the idea of a cat that’s going to grow no bigger than a kitten. So that’s an interest and we're still looking on that but I think, in 2009, we should see that coming out.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: My guest has been Simon Brodie, the CEO of Allerca Lifestyle Pets. If you want the huge, fantastic looking Ashera cat, hypoallergenic or they're working on the kitten that will always be the kitten, this is definitely the pet for you. But if you want that dog that just don’t have a lifestyle, time and effort to put into it, you may want to just continue listening because we're going to be speaking to Marlena Cervantes of FlexPets at a very interesting way of owning a dog. Stay tuned.
Announcer: Please have a seat in the waiting room. The doctor will be with you shortly right after this message.

[radio break]

Announcer: Welcome back to “The Pet Doctor” on Pet Life Radio with Dr. Bernadine Cruz. The doctor is in and will see you now.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: We just heard from Simon Brodie of Allerca Lifestyle Pets and if you’ve always wanted a cat but you are allergic to it, that’s the way to go. But what if you want a dog and your lifestyle just isn't seem to be appropriate for it? Well, Marlena Cervantes of FlexPets, I think, has the answer for us.

Marlena, thank you so much for being with us today.

Marlena Cervantes: Thank you so much for having me.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: How did you come up with the idea of FlexPets? Tell people a little bit about it, please.

Marlena Cervantes: Sure. I was working as [xx] therapist at the time for children with autism and I developed this idea as a way to share my therapy-certified dog with my clients’ families who’d expressed desire to own a dog full time. But the inability to do so because of the understanding that owning a dog would be for selfish reasons and not really in the dog’s best interest. So that’s how I actually came up with the idea and just the word of mouth generated a huge waiting list for me to surface. So that’s when I launched my business in San Diego in April of last year and we were so popular, the pugs were so huge that we opened our second location in June in Los Angeles and in New York by October. So we've been pretty, pretty [xx] very successful and it's been proven to be very, very popular.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: It's just a wonderful idea, you have all the benefits of having a dog but you don’t have some of the downsides. How do you screen at the potential dog owner or the dog leaser, I guess, you'd might want to call them?

Marlena Cervantes: We look into the shared ownership program. So basically, we do require a one year minimum commitment from all of our members. They come into the program, we instruct them over the phone, ask some basic questions about their history with dogs. We want to make sure that FlexPets is for them, and we find out if they're absolutely sure that full time ownership is not possible. So once we decide and we agree that FlexPets is for them, then we arrange the time to meet in person in the presence of our certified dog trainers.

They’ll meet some of our FlexPets dogs that are in their local area and we make sure the individual demonstrate they're going to be kind and responsible with their dog. They're easy to learn all about our dog’s personal history [xx] about the commands that they’ve been trained to understand. Then they would receive, maybe a week or two later, a notice that welcomes them to FlexPets and says “You know, we really like you and welcome to our family” and to give them instructions on how to proceed with reserving time with the dog. [laughs]

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: So if somebody has never own a dog before, you will kind of work them through what they’ll need to do. Is that correct?

Marlena Cervantes: That’s correct. We work them through the basics as the dos and don’ts of responsible dog ownership.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: So Marlena, you go ahead and you train the person who is going to be part of the shared ownership. Where do these dogs come from? What type of training do the dogs have?

Marlena Cervantes: Originally, I had started with the model of seeking breed [sp] specific rescues because once I was connected with the dog, I had a good amount of information on the dog. The breed specific rescues tend to do a really good screening process on the dog. They can tell you whether they're good around children, other cats, other animals, things like that. So that was the original model that we started with.

Since our name has been out there and so many people have heard about us, people who have dogs in their backyards--who either their children have outgrown or for whatever reasons or circumstances they’ve changed and they can no longer care for the dog properly--have actually contacted us. They said, “You know, we have this dog, we love it too much to give it over to a shelter but now that we're sure that FlexPets’ success, we’d love for you to have our dog. Our dog is so loving, loves everyone, its extremely social but its doesn’t get the attention that he or she deserves.” So now, we have a huge number of owner surrenders that we’ve actually incorporated it into the program.

So we'll do our own formal screening processes as well. We want to make that we've screened them for temperament. We want to make they get around children, other dogs. We test them for a variety of things and then we incorporate them into our program. We let them spend a few weeks in a doggie day care setting because that is the environment where they live day to day when they're not out with members. We want to make sure that they're going to fit in to a packed environment nicely and that they're not owner dependent or skittish or demonstrate any things like that.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: That’s a great idea. So you're screening the people, you're screening the dogs. It sounds so the dogs are in a country club kind of setting where they have all sorts of other little friends to play with. They're not in a sheltered situation where so many of these dogs, the owner relinquishment, otherwise would have gone to these shelters.

Are there a lot of different breeds that people can choose from? Say I've always wanted a little dog but gee, I don’t know. So do you have little ones, big ones, all these different ones for them to choose from?

Marlena Cervantes: Yes, we do have a large [xx] dogs and it really just depends on the dogs that we're connected with at the time. We do perform surveys in each regional area before we adopt dogs and send them to that specific location. We want to make sure that before we send a dog to New York or a dog to California, there actually is a demand or that there are people who want to spend time with the large Labrador or people would spend time with the small toy. I mean, it's your [xx] and that’s really how we work it out and we find out where the demand is. We never want our dogs to be just sitting around just hoping somebody’s going to come and take them out for the weekend. We really want to make sure that there is a demand demonstrated before we actually send them to specific location.

But yes, absolutely, to direct answer to your question, a number of families have actually joined FlexPets as a way to figure out before they make that commitment and bring a pet into their family. They want to make sure that it’s going to be a good fit. So they will come to FlexPets and say, “Listen, my wife loves the toy breeds. I've grown up around with large breeds my entire life, so were joining FlexPets [xx] compromise and we’d like to take out a few different dogs and see what's really going to be a good fit for our family.”

That’s really interesting because a very, very important component of our program is that the adoption--all of our dogs are up for adoption to our members when they can demonstrate that there is [xx] for change or they are capable and willing to own their dogs full time. So that makes it fantastic because we know that this process increases the likelihood that when our dogs find a permanent home, it's going to be a forever home.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Marlena, this is just so wonderful because so many times, clients have come in to my practice saying, “You know, I've always wanted that small breed.” Exactly, the husband wants the big one, etc. and trying to compromise and they get a dog and they bring it home going, “Oh, we're now kind of stuck with it because we know adopting a pet is adopting it for life.” This was kind of like taking that test drive of a car. You can try all these various dogs out instead of driving your cars out. Is it hard for dogs, because I know dogs really like routines, is it difficult for them going from one house to another house? How do you make sure that the dog is not getting stressed out from all the change?

Marlena Cervantes: A good screening process definitely aids and not because our dogs, their personalities tend to be very strong, very independent, very social, and they live in this packed environment for the majority of the week. So when the members do come out, and what we're finding is that they tend to pick out dogs, they’ll pick them up on a Friday, bring them back on a Saturday or Sunday. So it's really like going out with a fun Aunt or Uncle for the weekend.

They really love it and we always make sure that the dogs have--our members have agreed that what [xx] and the dogs are eager and anxious to go out. If they show that “No, I kind of want to undestand the doggie [xx]. We're just like, “Well, maybe you want to think of another dog to spend the weekend with. We’d make sure that the dogs are happy and that they are always anxious to go with our members. That's never anything that’s forced upon them.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: So here I am, I'm going to be a shared dog owner and I go and I pick up my dog. Now, I probably don’t have the food, the bed, all of the toys, etc., that a full time dog owner would have. So how do you address that?

Marlena Cervantes: That’s a great question. We set all of our members out for success. Once members have passed the screening process and we welcome them to our PetFlexs family, they then receive a welcome package in the mail which includes a fussy doggie bag, about the same all of the number receive. So anywhere they go, they have this fussy doggie bag to refer to. We give them two [xx] dog balls, leashes, two toys, doggie bags, everything that they possibly need for a successful fun visit. Anytime that the dog is going to be out with a member, we give them free measured foods for consistency of diet as well. We put a lot of caring, a lot of attention into consistency across households and across members.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: So I'd want to take a dog home for a weekend and it's lots of fun. But now maybe, I want to go traveling because I want to go to the mountains and take this dog and go hiking and having a good time. Can I do that also with one of these rented dogs?

Marlena Cervantes: [laughs] Yes, you could definitely take out your shared dog on a vacation. We do have a maximum of seven days. So as long as it's under that period of time, definitely, that is a possibility. Our dogs are all equipped with GPS tracking devices on their collars and they also incorporate a temperature control sensor so we know that the dogs are wearing it at all times. This gives us that sense of security knowing that if the dog and the member were ever separated, we could locate that dog’s position within six feet anywhere on the planet.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: That is fantastic. I wish all dogs and cats had something like that because too many times, they will get lost. Other problems besides getting lost maybe oops, all of a sudden, or things happen, a dog becomes ill. Now what does a shared dog owner do with that pet?

Marlena Cervantes: They receive a set of instructions that has both information for the local veterinarian and emergency procedures. Definitely, we assume all financial responsibility for the dog. It's really is worry-free pet ownership because if anytime a dog becomes ill, we take the responsibility to take the dog to the veterinarian clinic and make sure that the dog receives all the proper medical attention required. We also financially take on responsibility for that as well.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: You'd mentioned that you're in a couple of different cities. You started in San Diego and Los Angeles. Where else are you located throughout the United States?

Marlena Cervantes: We have a number of locations at this time including Boston, Washington DC, San Francisco. Our first international location is opening by spring and we're really excited about that. That’s in London.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Very nice! Now, being based in San Diego, I was reading on your website that with our recent wildfires that we had in San Diego, FlexPets also got involved in that? Can you tell us a little bit about what you did?

Marlena Cervantes: Sure. If you're going to Operation Stopgap and that was an effort launched to aid in the relocation of dogs who may have become homeless during the disaster.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: With this Operation Stopgap, did you have a lot of people using your service? Was there a charge for these people?

Marlena Cervantes: No, no, no. The effort was absolutely free, it was an effort to assist in the relocation for the dogs. Actually, the people that did contact me actually found homes and were assisted for their own family relocation and they were suitable environments for dogs to keep the dogs as well. So there was a lot of positive stories and a lot of positive endings to this unfortunate situation. So we're really glad to just offer an alternative solution just thinking in the event that dogs may have because we certainly have the resources to properly care for dogs so much of the results.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: That is just wonderful. FlexPets sounds like such a great idea. Is there any chance that you may be doing a FlexCat in the future?

Marlena Cervantes: [laughs] No, no, only dogs.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Only dogs, all right. Well, I think it is a little harder to get kitties into a new environment. It just doesn’t seem to be part of their personality. If somebody’s interested in becoming an owner or a parttime owner of a dog through FlexPets, where can they get some more information?

Marlena Cervantes: Visiting our website at Definitely, contact us and you will receive a response within five business days.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: What's the fee associated with becoming a member of FlexPets?

Marlena Cervantes: Initial sign up is about $299 for the entire year. That doesn’t include the screening, one hour required getting to know you session with the certified dog trainer and it also includes the welcome package that you will receive upon activation. You're never charged before we meet face to face and have actually formally approved the membership. So there's never any charges before that and there's a monthly membership fee.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: What is the daily rental fee for these dogs?

Marlena Cervantes: We charge daily rates, there's no hourly rates. It's a daily flat rate and it varies from city to city. There's I think, a $10 difference between the weekdays and weekends.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: And big dog, little dog, the same fee?

Marlena Cervantes: No. we have one standard rate.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: And all of a sudden, I want a dog but OK, I still have that busy schedule. Do I have to go some place to pick it up or is a dog delivered to me?

Marlena Cervantes: Yes, we do have a doggie shuttle service so if it's more convenient for the member to have the dog delivered to their home, then we can certainly provide that with arrangements.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz: We've been talking to Marlena Cervantes of FlexPets in which a great way of finding out whether or not you really want a dog, what kind of dog you may want in your family, you can take it out for a test drive, so to speak, or a test walk and see how it fits with your family. If your schedule just doesn’t allow you to have that dog 24/7 but you want to have something to snuggle up with at night or for a weekend, this may be the answer for you. So you can go to and learn more about it.

You’ve been listening to Pet Life Radio. I am Dr. Bernadine Cruz, the “Pet Doctor.” If you have any questions, probably the best person to ask is always going to be your own personal veterinarian. But if you want a second opinion, please feel free to contact me at Thanks so much for listening. Check back again next week and see what we're going to be chatting about then.

Take care. Bye bye.

Man: Pets can be a wonderful addition to your life. Because they are a member of the family, keeping them healthy and happy is important. Pet Life Radio presents “The Pet Doctor” with veterinary media consultant and veterinarian Dr. Bernadine Cruz. Whether you have a dog, cat, reptile, or rabbit, you'll find answers for your pets straight from the vets on demand every week only on

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