“It’s not as if you’re dealing with the delivery of a vase. It’s got to be able to breathe when you return it. And they have to be happy,” Ozner said.
The business, which launched this month, operates two vans that can each carry up to four large animals at a time. The service is certified to handle secure cargo, so it can drop off and pick up pets at the airport, and it’s teamed up with a real-estate company to do relocations. Most of the trips so far, however, have involved picking up pets at their owners’ homes and delivering them to the veterinarian or the groomer. But the potential rides are out there.
As part of his market research, Ozner queried several local governments in Northern Virginia to get an idea of the pet population. He discovered that in his hometown Alexandria and its four nearby jurisdictions – Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William counties – there are more than 135,000 licensed dogs. And many more are unlicensed, he figured. What’s more, he said, there are 1.2 cats for every dog, he said. All together, that’s a lot of fur faces to haul around.
“And that’s just on the Virginia side,” Ozner said. In the District, there are another 8,000 dog licenses, he said. In addition, there more than 200 veterinarians in Northern Virginia, and about 400 each in the District and Maryland.
“The difficult piece is bringing it to the on-demand local level,” Ozner said. “You have to have a lot of animals. And the D.C. metro area is very, very pet dense.”
Ozner said he and his partners hatched the idea based on their experience with a company that delivered meals to schools, the elderly and others in the area, for agencies such as the D.C. Office on Aging. So far, they’ve found that the typical client is a professional 40 years or older. Some are too busy to take off work to run their pet to the vet, and others are elderly. Some just appreciate someone else wrangling their pet on the way to the groomer. Others view their pets as children.
That’s why Myra Arnold, of Arlington, enlisted Rapid Paws to run King to the beauty shop. King — a champagne-colored, royal standard poodle that weighs about 80 pounds–is a service animal trained to attend to her because she has diabetes, she said. The fare was $25.
“First of all, it’s a necessity. There are many people with a disability who can’t take a dog to the vet. There are some people who are aging who can’t transport their animals,” Arnold said.
Good thing it was King, by the way. Her other dog – a royal standard poodle christened Lord Montague of Beaulieu – cocked his leg and let loose all over the place because of all the commotion during King’s pickup.
“That’s okay,” Arnold said. “He’s just excited.”
Something like this probably has happened to an Uber driver somewhere on a wild Saturday night. Still, even in the era of luxury pet hotels and doggie gyms, the idea of a limo service for pets seems over the top. Some communities struggle to provide transportation for elderly riders, people with disabilities, and school children. Ozner and Daniel Williams, 42, who is a co-owner and lives in the District, are sensitive to the perception that they’re running a business that seems to address a First World problem.
“You raise a good point,” Ozner said. “Yes, you know — it’s an excessive service for some, in terms of basic necessities. But some of the people in this area, they’re time-constrained, and they do have pets. So what are you going to do? You have to treat them right.”
Thankfully, the drivers are wearing baseball caps, not a chauffeur’s cap.
–Staff writer Joe Heim contributed to this post.