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Tag: insurance

Loaner dogs: There’s an app for that … but should there be?

barknborrow

Once again, I’m app-rehensive.

Seems to me we’re turning to apps for just about everything these days — even to accomplish all the simple things that used to come naturally, in time, with a little effort.

Want all the ingredients to cook up a tasty dinner? Don’t go to the grocery store. Fire up an app and have them delivered. Want a ride from here to there, a date, a wife, a plumber, travel directions? Turn to an app.

Need an inspirational phrase or selection of scripture to get through your day? Need to know what the weather’s doing? Don’t open a Bible. Don’t step outside. Fire up an app.

There are, of course, plenty of apps you can use to buy or adopt a dog, or at least get pointed in the right direction. But now comes an app aimed at those who want a dog but can’t have one.

It matches up people who want to spend a limited time with a dog with dog owners who wouldn’t mind a little help — in other words, the app serves as a middle man, as apps often do, charging both sides, as apps often do.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m between dogs, and find myself seeking out a canine fix several times a week. I strongly believe that the joy of dogs should be spread among as many people as possible, and that it’s in a dog’s interest to hang out with as many new people in new situations as possible.

I’m all for those two groups — those with dogs and dog-less folks wanting to spend time with one — getting matched up, assuming all involved are sincere dog-loving sorts without evil agendas. But what’s to assure that?

All these start-up apps promise “screening” and “vetting,” but try to find one that actually describes what steps they take in that process, other than using a vague term like “background check.” You rarely, if ever, will.

My guess is that they all use a background check app for that.

So we end up with psycho Uber drivers, and getting matched up for dates with “millionaire bachelors” who are actually unemployed sex offenders, and plumbers who are only vaguely familiar with what a wrench does.

berkeley2

Berkeley

Bark’N’Borrow is the brainchild of 24-year-old Liam Berkeley.

Berkeley says the app is meant for people who wish they could have a dog, but can’t care for one full-time. It connects them with dog-owners who are willing or wanting to loan them their dog for playdates and sleepovers.

The app also caters to dog owners who are interested in trading dog sitting responsibilities with each other, thereby avoiding hiring a dog sitter or relying on a kennel.

The app had 70,000 users even before it debuted its 2.0 version on Friday, National Dog Day, according to Forbes.com. The new version includes a paid subscription model — users pay $7.99 for one month or $4.99 a month if they sign up for three months.

“Dog sharing connects you with people and puts your dog in a happier place,” Berkeley said. “There’s more love to be shared.”

With the app, dog owners can browse potential borrowers, and borrowers can flip through borrow-able dogs, seeing where they are located, their breed, size, personality, breed and training level.

On the plus side, Bark’N’Borrow is donating 5% of all subscription fees to the Best Friends Animal Society.

It also says it is insuring every subscriber — both dog owner and dog borrower — for accidents up to $2 million, just to be on the safe side. (That insurance only applies to dog dates that are scheduled on the app’s platform.)

Berkeley points out that dog owners hire dog walkers they don’t know all the time. “Your dog sitter and dog walker are a stranger until they become your dog sitter or dog walker,” he said. “We do a very good job of vetting each individual. We try to create the safest, most responsible community possible.”

The website does not describe what’s involved in that “vetting.”

Berkeley, originally from Sydney, moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment and launched the site in 2014. He said he came up with the app idea when he and his then-girlfriend wanted to adopt a dog but knew they couldn’t look after one with their busy schedules.

Instead, they played with neighbors’ dogs, which helped Berkeley realized many people — those with dogs and those without them — would like an arrangement like that.

It is a wonderful thing, when it happens naturally.

To coax it into place by remote control, and on a nationwide scale, strikes me as problematic — just like those dog rental companies that popped up a few years ago and, thankfully, went away.

For a non-dog owner seeking some dog time, there might be better ways:

Go for walks and see who you run into. Strike up conversations (an exchange of words that occurs verbally and face to face, without the use of a device). Volunteer at your local shelter or with a rescue group. Go to a dog park, even though you don’t have a dog. (It’s allowed.) Attend dog-related functions.

For dog owners, good old-fashioned friends are probably a preferable, and less pimp-like, alternative, to turning your dog’s leash over to a stranger and saying “OK, have fun, see ya in a few hours.”

I won’t go so far as to say one should never use this app.

I’d just say use it carefully, as you might use Craigslist. If you do meet with a listed dog borrower (or even an owner), do it in public, with a friend along. And don’t rely on your first impression, or all that vetting the app promises.

In other words, do like they did in the old days and get to know that person first.

Before you turn your dog over to a stranger, make sure he or she is not a stranger anymore.

(Photos: Barn’N’Borrow)

It’s getting harder to fetch this stick

quicksand

(Today’s post has nothing to do with dogs. This happens on rare occasion when I become so steamed about some non-dog issue that I must vent — today in the form of a fable.)

You are hiking down a remote jungle trail in some country where there is quicksand — that legendary kind of quicksand from which there is no escape — when you come across a woman who is hip deep and sinking slowly.

“Oh thank God,” she says when she sees you.

She looks familiar. You smile and ask her name.

“Heather Bresch,” she says.

It takes a moment to register. “Heather Bresch? The CEO of Mylan, the pharmaceutical company that makes the EpiPen?”

“Yes,” she says as she struggles against the quicksand and sinks a little deeper. “I’m vacationing in this country, and I left my luxury villa to take a little walk and this happened. I need help.”

“Clearly you do,” you say. “I’m happy to provide assistance.”

“If you could get that fallen tree limb over there and pass it to me, I think I could pull myself out,” she says, sinking up to the waist as she points.

You walk over and pick up one end of it. “This one?” you say.

“Yes,” she says. “Hurry please.”

You begin sliding the tree limb in her direction.

“This one is $10 million,” you say.

She laughs uncomfortably. “Please, hurry,” she says.

“I’m serious,” you say.

“That’s ridiculous,” she says. “It’s just a tree limb.”

epi“And the EpiPen is just a stick with, or so I’ve read, $1 worth of medicine in it — yet your company has raised the price of it to $300.”

“The EpiPen save lives,” she says.

“So might this stick, if used as directed,” you respond.

Up to her chest in quicksand, she promises to give you the money when she gets out, but you tell her you need it up front.

She struggles to dig into her pockets, causing her to sink up to her neck. As she pulls cash out of her pockets and flings it in your direction, she explains that the six-fold increase in the price of EpiPens was necessary.

“Mylan has spent millions on research and development of the product,” she says. “You can’t expect us to pay for all that ourselves.”

“Oh, so you invented Epinephrine?”

“Well, no, but we’ve spent a lot of money perfecting our sophisticated self-delivery system — in which you plunge a needle in your own leg and push down on the stopper, administering a pre-measured, life-saving dosage.”

“And if people just measured their own, and used an old fashioned syringe, what would be the actual cost?” you ask.

“Oh, maybe about $2.29, but that’s not the point. The point is much effort and significant expense went into creating that delivery system — things like shipping and handling and lobbying and designer white lab coats, all part of our noble effort to keep people from dying from allergic reactions to bee stings and such.”

She throws a final fistful of cash out of the quicksand. “There,” she says, “that’s $10 million. Now please slide that stick to me.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” you say. “The $10 million price was five minutes ago. It has gone up since then – to $20 million.”

“That’s more than I make in a year,” she protests.

bresch“Well, only 1 million more,” you point out. “The only thing that has climbed more quickly than the cost of EpiPens is your salary.”

“We are not talking about my salary,” she says. “Now, please, the stick. Anyone can hand someone a stick. It costs nothing.”

“Bear in mind,” you say, as the quicksand rises to her mouth, “you are not so much paying for the stick as you are paying for the delivery system. Just look at me as a monopoly providing a needed service. And the cool part is I just stumbled upon my monopoly. I didn’t need help from my senator-father, or to spend millions lobbying for it.”

You watch as the quicksand covers her nose, and then her eyes.

As the top of her head disappears, you plunge the stick into the muck. She grabs on and hauls herself out. Though coughing and exhausted, she manages a laugh, and you are pretty sure you hear her call you a “sucker.”

She crawls about picking up her money as you walk away — but not before noticing an anaconda is slithering up to her from behind, and an alligator is creeping towards her from the river, and a swarm of Zika-carrying mosquitoes is headed her way.

You are not worried about her. She is where she belongs:

With all the other predators.

Woof in Advertising: Utterly unskippable

You know, probably all too well, those intrusive and uninvited advertisements that often precede viewing the videos you want to view on the Internet.

They are known as “pre-roll ads,” and I always do my best to make them disappear — both in terms of the videos I put on ohmidog!, and in terms of my own home viewing. I skip them the millisecond YouTube permits me to.

This one though, I’ve watched ten times, in its entirety.

The first five seconds of the Geico ad shows an all-too-typical family enjoying an all-too-typical spaghetti dinner, with the wife bragging about saving money on her insurance bill before the ad seems to culminate, at the five-second mark, in what at first appears to be an all-too-typical freeze frame.

That, as the family remains frozen — or at least tries to — is where the Saint Bernard comes in.

wia

He eats spaghetti off the dad’s fork, climbs atop the table and clears the daughter’s plate, passes over the salad and spills a glass of milk as he proceeds to the the son’s plate, devouring its contents. Then he plunges his snout  into the serving dish mom is holding.

The ad doesn’t really make me want to find out if 15 seconds can save me 15 percent on my insurance bill, but it’s brilliant — and further proof that dogs have a way of holding our attention, especially dogs behaving badly.

The ad was filmed in Los Angeles last month, and the dog, whose real name is Bolt, is a Saint Bernard mix.

If you find it impossible to skip, that was exactly the goal — to keep people riveted, even though it’s a form of advertising most of us detest.

“We call these unskippable,” Joe Alexander, chief creative officer at The Martin Agency, told USA Today. The agency has created three other mock freeze-frame Geico spots.

“Our goal is to bring attention to Geico in a space that is often hated,” he said.

(You can find more of our “Woof  in Advertising” posts — about how marketers use dogs in advertising — here.)

The poodle who pays for my Obama Care

lily 086

Oftentimes, when to pursue your own dreams and interests you stop working for “THE Man” — as I did six years ago — you end up, unfortunately, without “THE Salary” and without “THE Benefits.”

That — the no more health insurance part — is why I haven’t seen a doctor in six years.

That — the no more salary part — is why, in addition to being an author, freelance writer, photographer and blogger, I recently became a bartender and, even more recently, a dog walker.

lily 047And that brings us to Lily, the poodle who pays for my Obama Care.

I suppose I should be thanking our President for finally being able to get myself some health insurance. He’s the one who made it possible. But Lily, sweet Lily, made it doable.

If being paid to spend time with Lily makes me a gigolo, then call me a gigolo. True, I come calling on her twice a day, three times a week. I knock on her door, give her a hug when it opens, and then wrap her coat snugly around her, making sure her fluffy white ears don’t get caught inside.

We ride the elevator down to the first floor of the assisted living center in which she and her owner live and go outside for a 20-minute stroll — during most of which she walks daintily along the top of the curb, like a tightrope walker. She fastidiously poops in the same spot each time, in the woods on a vacant lot. She stops when I stop, goes when I go, and has never once caused the slightest tug on her retractable leash.

After the walk — and I’ve never met a dog who’s easier to walk — we go back inside. Then we sit in the lounge area and snuggle for maybe five minutes. That is my favorite part and, though it may be vain of me to think so, her’s too.

My other favorite part is seeing the reaction of residents when a dog comes into the room, the smiles that instantly appear and the hands that reach out. It’s amazing the change in atmosphere one dog’s presence can produce.

lily 094I’ve often thought it would be great to run some kind of program that not only brought dogs into facilities for the elderly, but found them homes there, and provided support and help to residents who wanted dogs of their own, but had concerns about whether they could manage it.

That would be fun, and noble, and help homeless dogs, and assist in bringing immeasurable joy to people.

But it wouldn’t pay my bills — much less provide health insurance for me.

I charge Lily $6.50 for  each session.

In  a month, that earns me enough to pay my $137.67 monthly health insurance premium, as determined by the Affordable Health Care Act, based on my income.

That income pales in comparison to what I made as a newspaper reporter, back when I worked for THE Man. I left my last newspaper job in 2008 to write a book, but also because, amid continued shrinkage and cutbacks, it had become nearly impossible to do a story justice and give it the attention it deserved. After that my dog and I traveled the country, and I tinkered with another book, while continuing to write this blog.

We ended up in North Carolina, and last year moved to the little town of Bethania.

A few months ago I started working the bar and grill at a golf course down the street from my rented house. Not to bore you with my finances, but that two-day-a-week job, coupled with my newspaper reporter pension, makes it possible to pay my rent, bills and other debts. I wasn’t bringing in enough for health insurance, though, and — after countless hours wandering around healthcare.gov — I had pretty much decided I would continue do without, pay the penalty fee, and treat any diseases or disorders that arose with chicken soup and ibuprofen.

One afternoon, at the golf course, the aunt of another employee visited and told me about her dog-walking business — business maybe not being the right word. It’s sort of more in between a business and volunteering. She helps residents of an assisted living center with chores, ranging from shopping trips to dog walking, charging a rate that does little more than pay for her gas.

lily 066She, like me, feels strongly that dogs can improve the lives of elderly people, especially those who live alone. I told her if she was ever in a pinch, and in need of a fill-in dog walker, I’d be glad to help out.

A few weeks later she called, and I began walking Miss Lily — at first temporarily, then regularly.

The insurance plan Lily has enabled me to get is not the kind that pays for everything.

It’s more, as I understand it, the type that, after I spend $3,000 or so I don’t have on doctors, will kick in and pay 60 percent or so of my qualifying medical expenses. Even with it, one good medical crisis will probably still send me into financial ruin. But at least it’s something, and I’m abiding by the law, and it might make me more likely to visit a doctor.

And even if I don’t, I’ll still be reaping some health benefits — between all the dog cuddling, which is good for the heart, and all the dog walking, which is good for the heart.

I’m sure there will be much confusion, red tape and arguing ahead when it comes to my health insurance. There always is. And with my income being of the fluctuating variety — depending on the stories I sell, the dogs I walk, the beers I serve — I don’t understand how we will determine the premium I should pay in the future. Is it  based on last year’s income? Or this year’s income, which I won’t know until the year is finished?

Just last month, two more dogs showed up at the assisted living facility.  First came a Boston terrier named Punkin. I take him for three walks a day, three days a week. Then came Gretel, a miniature schnauzer who is 13, and the fastest walker of the bunch.

lily 064That means more income, which means the amount I have to pay for my Obama Care will go up.

For the record, Republican leaders, that doesn’t sap me of any incentive. I still want to have as much money as you. I’d still like to have the kind of health insurance you have.

But at least I can take a rebellious sort of pride in the fact that I’m not working for THE Man.

No. Not me. I’m working for a kind and gentle, polite and refined, sweet and loving curbwalker. I’m working for THE Poodle.

(Story and photos by John Woestendiek)

Alabama town bans pit bulls after sheriff shoots what he thinks might have been one

claycouncil

Citywide pit bull bans are often knee jerk reactions — maybe even more so when a county sheriff”s knees are involved.

One week after Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale was approached in his yard by four dogs “acting aggressive and looking like pit bull breeds” — and fired a shotgun at them, grazing one — the Alabama city of Clay passed a “vicious dog” ordinance banning pit bulls and pit bull mixes.

sheriffhaleThe sheriff, according to a spokesman, fired a warning shot into the ground, then another round of “bird shot” in the direction of the dogs, leading them to turn away. Animal control arrived to round up the dogs, and their owner was charged with letting them run at large. The dog hit by Hale’s shot survived, AL.com reported.

That incident prompted the city council in Clay, with a speed seldom seen in government affairs, to pass an ordinance banning pit bulls and other “vicious” or “dangerous” dogs. 

The ordinance bans new pit bulls and mixes that include pit bull. Such dogs already kept in the city limits are grandfathered in but must be registered with the city in the next 60 days. The ordinance requires they be kept indoors and mandates owners post a prominently displayed “beware of dog” sign. Owners are also required to have $50,000 in liability insurance. Violations can be punished with a fine of up to $500 and up to 30 days in jail.

Having sought little public input before passing the law on June 3, the city council has gotten some since, AL.com reports.

A standing room only crowd filled Monday night’s meeting of the Clay City Council, with most citizens arguing the breed is not “inherently dangerous” and criticizing the law for unfairly penalizing responsible owners. Many, including a representative from the Birmingham Humane Society, urged the council to consider a non-breed specific dangerous dog law instead.

One speaker continued to voice his concerns after his turn to speak was over. When told he was interrupting, he continued his comments, leading Mayor Charles Webster — perhaps deeming him to be inherently dangerous — to ban him from the room.

“You are turning us all into criminals,” the man, identified as Mark Lawson, said as a deputy led him outside.

City Attorney Alan Summers said he would try to have a new or modified ordinance for the council to consider at its next meeting on July 1.

(Top photo by Jeremy Gray / AL.com)

Health insurer get stinky response to advertisements mailed to family dog

sdTired of junk mail they were receiving from a health insurance company — all of it addressed to their pet — a family in Indianapolis struck back by sending along a little something from the dog.

The mailed feces was sent along with this note: “Your bulk mailer has purchased a bogus name. Our dog does not need Medicare insurance and has never written a letter nor called Anthem requesting such trash … When are these solicitations going to stop arriving? Well, let’s see if you like your trash back. What comes around, goes around!”

The family, pointing out they were tired of the insurance company’s “crap,” addressed the package to “Expert A–holes” and ended the letter by saying, “Bon appetite.”

Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield told police it was the second time in two months they’ve received dog feces in the mail at their Virginia Avenue office. A similar delivery came in March.

Police have passed the complaint onto the postal inspector, according to Fox 59 in Indianapolis.

Anthem employees sealed the latest shipment in a plastic bag to hand over to inspectors, according to RTV 6.

The most recent letter had a return address, but police were unsure if it was authentic.

Adventures in househunting, Craigslist style

Where I’d like to live and what I can afford are two different realms, two very different realms — a fact I bring up not because I’m the first person to experience that phenomenon, but because it is one of the reasons Ace and I are having difficulty settling down, even temporarily.

All I want is a small cabin or cottage — they being much more romantic than something called a house — away from the hubbub, with heat and electricity, perhaps on the water, with a view of said water, and maybe a porch, possibly a fireplace, and washer and dryer, either near a park or with a big backyard that Ace can romp in, for, say $700 a month.

I’m not set on that. I’d also settle for a huge artist’s loft, utilities included, under $800 a month, where I could spread out and tape notes to the walls and write brilliantly when I’m not at the neighboring dog park, or enjoying the downtown skyline of (insert city here) from my deck, or taking part in the thriving social scene and cultural activities within easy walking distance.

Am I asking too much?

Of course I am.

For those of you who haven’t been following the recent adventures of me and my dog Ace,  allow me to summarize. Eight months ago, we hit the road to see some America — freeloading off friends and strangers, staying at cheap motels, spending a week on a boat, a month in a camper, a few nights in the car and in my tent. Part of the reason was to find ourselves, and find home. Part of it was to see if we could be vagabonds, roaming the country for the same amount we’d previously spent on rent and utilities at our rowhouse in Baltimore.

The trip gave me a deeper appreciation of my dog and my country; a better understanding of its faults (the country’s, Ace has none); and it confirmed my suspicion that most of the great places to live, scenic-beauty wise, have been co-opted by the rich. It also instilled in me — if it wasn’t already there — a thriftiness that, while mandated by my economic situation, borders on obsession.

I just can’t stand spending money on overpriced things, like gas, fancy restaurants, hotels, electricity and rent.

Arriving back in Baltimore, still unsure where home was, we were lucky enough to land in an empty house near the Inner Harbor that’s awaiting its new tenants — three soldiers returning from Afghanistan, expected to be back at end of February. It more than meets my needs and my budget, as it’s a friend’s house that’s costing me nothing. I, essentially, am squatting, with permission. But the clock is ticking.

So everyday, I visit Craigslist, most often “housing, sublets and temporary,” looking for a place to live for March, maybe April and May, maybe longer. I’m not limiting myself to the Baltimore area. I’ve also searched, on the Internet, the Eastern Shore, North Carolina, Delaware, Philadelphia and, on really cold days, Arizona.

My options are limited because I’m hesitant to sign up for a year’s lease and, of course, by my  dog — but also by my cheapness. I will probably move to wherever I find the best deal.

For awhile, I thought I’d found it, in Wilmington, N.C. — a pet-friendly, two-bedroom home overlooking the woods on a quiet cul-de-sac close to Wrightsville Beach. At $695 a month.

I emailed about what sort of pet fees and restrictions might apply, and got a speedy response. The house was still available, and they allowed all dogs — except for for Rottweilers, Akitas, chows and pit bulls.

Ace — as some of you may know, and in answer to the question many of you have asked — is  a mix of Rottweiler, Akita, chow and pit bull.

The next day I found affordable paradise again —  a “cottage” in Ellicott City, Md., one that, from the pictures, looked just like what I was looking for. It was secluded, wooded, with two bedrooms and a porch, for only $700.

Again my inquiry was quickly answered:

“Thanks for your email and interest in renting my house..I am Banke Jur, the owner of the house you are making inquiry of. Actually I resided in the house with my family, my wife and my only daughter before and presently we have moved out due to my transfer from my work now in Warsaw,Poland. Presently my house is still available for rent for $700USD (rent already includes utilities). More so Now, i’m currently in the (West African) for an international Christian follower’s crusade …

“Await your urgent reply … please we are giving you all this based on trust and again i will want you to stick to your words, you know that we have not seen yet and only putting everything into Gods hands, so please do not let us down in this our property and God bless you more as you do this …

“The house is available for rent at the moment so you are free to move in as soon as you wish to. A Deposit of $500 (which happens to be the security deposit) is required before moving in. Arrangements on how to get the keys and other necessary documents delivered to you.”

Problem was, the same house was listed at $1,650 on a dozen other rental websites, including the Re/Max website, its official listing agency.

My findings thus far? What appears to be a dandy deal is often a sleazy scam. What appears too good to be true, generally is. And what I can afford seems to be a “sleeping room,” a roomate situation, or in a neighborhood that, while the house has been “rehabbed,” the neighbors, unfortunately, have not.

Searching Craigslist has given me some new pet peeves: ads that don’t include a price, address, or even neighborhood; ads for places that proclaim dog-friendliness, but limit that to dogs under 25 pounds; ads proclaiming dog-friendliness that turn out to charge an extra $100 a month for it (Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t “friendliness” you have to pay for generally called prostitution?); ads repeated so often as to make you scream; ads pretending to be offering a property that just funnel you into some other website, sucking up your time.

Not to mention they get no editing. There was one house whose owner boasted it was “recently remolded.” Apparently the original mold wasn’t good enough.

Another ad on Baltimore’s Craigslist offered free rent for 2 months — on a farm, with pets and horses allowed —  in exchange for “painting services that equal 40 hours/week.”  I could do that. What I could not do, though, was pay the $3000 cash deposit they asked for.

I also came across this “bachelor or bachelorette pad” at $875 a month, which features a built in bar, stripper pole, and, at least in the photos, what appear to be tools of restraint. I exercised some and didn’t seek more information.

There are plenty of ads for roomates. But at 57, I just can’t see moving in with a roomate, or two, or three. I thought some about this one in Canton, a shared rowhouse, for under $700 — three female roomates looking for a fourth of any gender. There were already some “mellow dogs” living there, according to the ad. Ace and I both fit into that category. While it did set me to humming the theme from “Three’s Company,” I didn’t make an inquiry — mainly because, as much as I’d try to be Jack Tripper, I’d come across as the token old coot. I am, come to think of it, a lot like Don Knotts/Mr. Furley on the inside, masked beneath the cool/sleepy exterior of Norman Fell/Mr. Roper. (Not that I actually watched that show.)

What all this is telling me is that humans, at least those on Craigslist, are not to be automatically trusted — that maybe newspaper classified ads, because people had to pay for them, were at least a bit more reliable, not to mention spam free.

It’s telling me too that that there should be a blacklist of landlords and insurers that unfairly blacklist entire breeds.

And, when I read between the lines, it’s telling me that maybe we’re not meant to settle down. Ace, I’m mostly convinced, wants to. Part of me does, too. But another part is saying that, if I invest in anything, it should be a home with wheels.

Maybe we should continue traveling the country, this time in an RV, Ace and me, perhaps with another zany sidekick — not Fran Drescher — simultaneously filming it for use as either reality show or sitcom.

You better hope I find a home, or you might have to watch it.