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Monday, June 13, 2005


Now, high-tech Fido finders

New York Daily News - Home - Critters: Now, high-tech Fido finders

Now, high-tech Fido finders


Deborah Young doesn't much worry that her pooch Elie will meander away from their Carroll Gardens apartment. But the Brooklyn writer often fears that her delightful red-nose pit bull will be snatched off the street.

"My heart quickens every time I have to tie her up outside a store for even a few seconds," said Young, who has heard dozens of stories about desirable dogs like Elie that have been stolen.

Now, a new high-tech dog collar may help ease the mind of jittery pet owners.

A 5-ounce gadget that attaches to the dog's collar uses global positioning system technology to track pets. Users create an invisible electronic fence - up to hundreds of miles - where the dog is free to roam.

The moment the pooch crosses the invisible boundary, a message is sent - a text message or an E-mail - with the animal's exact location.

"No one should have to go through the heartache of losing a pet," said Jennifer Durst, CEO of GPS Tracks in Oyster Bay, L.I., which makes the high-tech pet locator.

Other useful features include a built-in temperature monitor that sends a warning message when the dog's location becomes dangerously hot or cold, such as in a parked car.

Dialing F-O-U-N-D on any PDA gives the user the pet's location at any time.

The idea was born five years ago while Durst was on an all-out search for Hank and Chewbacca, her 140-pound German shepherds, which fled her Syosset home on a rainy school night.

As the single mom scooped up her sleeping kids and drove around the neighborhood, she asked herself, "Why can't there be a LoJack - an electronic device that can track a car it's installed in - for dogs?"

"It was an invention of necessity," Durst said.

Keeping tabs on your pooch doesn't come cheap. The device costs $350, and there's a $18 monthly fee. There's also a startup fee of $35.

So far, it only works on dogs over 30 pounds, which means cats and toy breeds will have to wait for the next generation.

Although the GPS-based technology is exciting, some animal experts are skeptical.

"It needs to get to a point that it's affordable, readily available and easy to use," said Kate Pullen, director of Animal Sheltering Issues at the Humane Society of the United States. In the end, she said, pet owners should rely on a collar and ID tag.

Surprisingly, a large number of cats and dogs that come into the shelters have no identification.

"It's the No. 1 reason dogs are dying in shelters," said Ed Boks, executive director of NYC Animal Care and Control.

Last year, 42,000 dogs and cats landed in AC&C's shelters, and only 1,187 were reunited with their owners, Boks said.

A dog with either a tag or up-to-date license has a good chance of being reunited with its owner. Unfortunately, 99% of the animals that land in the shelter are not wearing identification, Boks said, and never go home again.

Microchips with unique ID numbers that are implanted under the skin have been used for years to increase the chances of locating a missing pet.

Despite its potential, the technology isn't foolproof. There is no microchip scanner available that reads chips from different makers. So the chip of one company may be readable by a scanner at one veterinary clinic but not at another.

The newly formed Coalition for Reuniting Pets and Families, made up of animal welfare and veterinary associations, is hoping to change the standard.

Pullen said the group is calling on microchip manufacturers and distributors to provide a scanner capable of reading any chip or electronic signal.

Young said she had Elie implanted with a microchip but the company could not verify that the number was registered in its database.

Still, although Young isn't sure she would shell out $350 for a GPS tracking system, she said, "Maybe it's worth the peace of mind."

Originally published on June 11, 2005

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