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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Paws for thought . . . Tinder for dog lovers is a walk in the park

A new app matches canine fans with the pooches of owners who are pushed for walking time

Rachel Lavin

Published 06/03/2016 | 02:30

Match: Rachel Lavin with Otto Photo: Tony Gavin
Match: Rachel Lavin with Otto Photo: Tony Gavin
Riona Walsh Photo: Tony Gavin

We met online and organised an evening stroll along the canal. Nervously knocking on the front door of Otto's home, I picture the photo we matched through - short, fair and curly haired - and really hope we get on.

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The door opens and Otto comes bounding out, jumps up and tries to lick my face.

Success!

This is Otto, the six-year-old Bichon Frise and I've come to the home of owner Louise Walsh, with a friend, to take Otto for a walk.

Alright, I may have been misleading. Otto is a girl and yes, a dog, but we did meet online through a new app and website that is putting Tinder to shame.

After all, who needs hot dates with a man when you can have muddy play dates in the park with your favourite local pooch?

BorrowMyDoggy connects lonely dog lovers with dog owners in need of help and through the app you can organise to bring dogs in your area for walks, playdates, even for holidays while owners are away.

Louise, who is a new mum to eight-month-old Matthew, found that Otto, her solid companion since her single days when she first moved to Dublin, was feeling a little neglected now that the baby was commanding all of her attention.

"I felt bad for her," explains Louise. "When we're here, we're all about the baby but she's like an older sibling, she feels a little left out."

Louise created a profile on the app in January and since then Otto has been on doggy dates with three matches.

"It's been great for her, she gets out of the house, gets to meet new people and gets a little attention from someone else too."

One of those new people is Riona Walsh, 24, who moved to Dublin from her hometown of Sligo to work full time as a junior doctor and now walks Otto once a week.

"At first, she was quite reserved, she was actually quite nervous. But you could tell as she was walking along she was like, 'Who is this person?' But by the second or third time, she was happy."

Indeed, Otto and Riona have developed a real bond, with Otto wagging her tail excitedly at the sight of Riona and licking her and jumping at her feet.

At one point, Otto stands transfixed, waiting for her new owner, occasionally glancing at me sceptically as if to say: "Listen, lady, I'm not going anywhere with you."

And when Otto becomes tired due to her bad rear leg, Riona picks her up and carries her the rest of the way home.

While Otto has a new walker to ensure she gets her daily exercise, Riona finds walking her new four-legged friend therapeutic.

"I think it's partially the nostalgia, as I walked my old dog every day when I was a child and partially because my job is demanding.

"I need a way to calm down in the evenings but I'm not at the right stage of life for my own dog. I don't live in a permanent house and have long hours, so walking Otto helps me unwind."

Indeed, studies show that petting a dog decreases cortisol levels and dogs are well known for their calming and joyful effects as man's long-time best friend.

The commitment encourages regular exercise for the dog and their walker and also allows for a social element, with local dog walkers often stopping us as we walk around the area to muse over our furry friends.

It seems the relationship is not just mutually beneficial for Riona and Otto, but for Louise too. Becoming a part of the site cost her €44.99 per year as an owner (for Riona as a dog borrower, it was €9.99) but Louise says that considering some dog walkers charge €10 per dog walk, it actually makes economic sense too.

As we return a tired but contented Otto to her owner, it seems Otto is not the only one making new friends.

Riona and Louise, neighbours who otherwise would never have met, have become quite friendly through their weekly meet-ups.

Over tea and chats there is even talk of Riona carrying Otto, the potential ring bearer, up the aisle at Louise's upcoming wedding.

That may be the down to the socially unifying power of BorrowMyDoggy for dog-lovers everywhere, or it may just be due to poor Otto's lame leg.

Sunday Independent

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