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Local startup Let's Join Paws aims to match owners of lonely pets with people who need a furry friend

What do cars, homes, snowboards and Spot all have in common? They’re part of the sharing economy — through Lyft, Airbnb, Spinlister and Let’s Join Paws, respectively. That last one, a pet-sharing service, is based right here in Southern Nevada.

“People would have had trouble wrapping their brains around it a few years ago,” says Henderson resident Cheryl Moss, who cofounded Let’s Join Paws with her husband, Russ Petersen, in 2014. “But today, we share our homes, our cars. It’s easier to understand.”

Moss works in the appraisal department at Bank of Nevada. For years, she says, she thought about what she’d do in life after banking. Inspiration struck while watching an episode of the Dog Whisperer. In it, a family piled into the car, drove down the street and dropped their dog off at a retired neighbor’s house.

“The dog had two homes,” Moss says. “The retiree got the benefit of having the dog’s companionship, and the family got some company for their dog.”

She and Petersen launched Let’s Join Paws at the Animal Foundation’s annual Best in Show fundraiser two years ago. Three website designs later, Moss says it’s finally operating the way they imagined. People willing to spend time with dogs join for free; those looking for someone to spend time with their pets pay a fee ranging from $19.99 for a month to $83.88 for a year, with services increasing proportionate to fees.

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In an ideal scenario, a pet owner who has to leave his pet at home alone connects with someone in his area who would love to spend time with a pet but can’t commit to owning one — for health or financial reasons, say. The two meet, check each other out, and, if it seems like a good fit, arrange to “share” the pet. (What happens after that is their responsibility, Moss notes.) When one neighbor is sick, the other could volunteer to care for his cat. If a dog barks a lot during his owner’s long workday, a volunteer could alleviate the dog’s loneliness.

Pet owners will immediately imagine the risks involved. A car or apartment can be insured and repaired, but can a stranger be trusted with a member of the family?

“The critical piece is the vetting process,” Kenny Lamberti, director of strategic engagement for the Human Society of the U.S., says. “You’d have to make really sure there are safeguards in place, but that’s true of dog-walkers and -sitters, too. Lots of pets struggle with a change of environment, or being left with someone they don’t know. The most important consideration would be the dog’s well-being, safety and quality of life, and not the humans’.”

That said, Lamberti acknowledges the therapeutic effect of having a furry critter around and the potential benefit to everyone involved if a good match is made. He says he’s heard of similar concepts in recent years, but it’s not a common service. Existing apps such as Rovr are for paid professionals, and Moss says Let’s Join Paws is not transactional. It’s meant to work as it did for Barbara Caddoo.

After a stroke and car accident put Caddoo in the Kingman hospital last year, she couldn’t speak, so no one could figure out why she refused to return to Las Vegas for urgently needed treatment. Hospital staff called a contact in her phone, J.C. Melvin, CEO of Keller Williams Realty Southwest.

Melvin and his wife drove to Kingman and, after a couple hours with their friend of 34 years, figured out that she wouldn’t come home without her dogs Pookie and Muffin, who’d been placed in a Kingman shelter. Melvin promised to bring Pookie and Muffin back to Las Vegas, and Caddoo agreed to get in the ambulance.

But what to do with the dogs then? Melvin had no idea. Through a mutual friend, he connected with Petersen and found a family that fostered Caddoo’s dogs during her eight-month convalescence, even taking them for weekly visits to the facility where she was healing. Recently, Caddoo, Pookie and Muffin were reunited.

“I was impressed with Let’s Join Paws,” Melvin says. “I know that without it those dogs would have been either put down or otherwise gone, and Barbara would never have seen them again. … And they were everything to her.”

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