Lightning lived up to his name a little too well. The dog, a stray living in the woods of New Hampshire, was so wary of humans he tended to bolt whenever rescuers got too close, eluding capture for almost a year.
So when animal rescue folks eventually collared Lightning, they attached a GPS tracking device to him. Now, says his new owner, Linda Copson, if Lightning “gets spooked” and takes off, she will be able to track him across her 13 acres in Sugar Hill.
Pet owners are increasingly turning to technology to keep track of, or find, their house pets. Devices such as infrared cameras and night vision monoculars that can ferret out a hidden pet are being used to supplement more established social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter to keep animals safe.
“We reunited over 600 dogs last year and a lot of that was due to social media,” said Beth Corr of Granite State Dog Recovery, a Salem, N.H., volunteer group. “It makes me wonder how dogs were found before social media.”
But the rescue group also uses more sophisticated tools: For example, Granite State might set up motion-sensing infrared cameras in suspected locations to narrow down where to capture an animal. Other times, they will scope out an area at night, when frightened lost dogs may be out seeking food, with a night vision monocle.
Figures on sales of tracking devices and other tech tools are not available, but Bob Vetere, the president of the American Pet Products Association, said electronics represent a growing part of the $56 billion that consumers spent annually on their pets. And he expects sales to only grow.
“We are helicopter parents and we hover over our kids all the time and now we are hovering over our dogs and cats,” he said.
There are not official numbers on missing cats or dogs in the United States, but the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that about 7 million pets are turned in to animal shelters annually. The small number of those reunited with their owners typically have identifying tags or tattoos in their ear, or were implanted with microchips that contain information on the pet and its owners, and can be read by scanners at most animal shelters and veterinarian clinics.
But the microchips cannot be used to track the animal’s location. For that, there are pet-tracking systems such as SpotLite GPS Pet Locator, Tagg the Pet Tracker, and location devices from the main makers of GPS technology, such as Garmin.
Systems such as Tagg and SpotLite run from $100 to $150 and typically include a tracking device about the size of a large wristwatch that is attached to the pet’s collar, and software that tracks the animal’s whereabouts on a computer or mobile device.
In December, Kim Chappell of Nashville, was at a training session in Boston for local medical company Abiomed Inc. when she received an alert on her smartphone that her Labrador, Bing-O, had strayed too far from home. Because Bing-O has a penchant for wandering, Chappell used the Tagg system to set up a safe zone around her neighborhood in rural Tennessee that would send alerts whenever he breached the perimeter. From Boston, Chappell called her husband, who followed Bing-O’s GPS track and brought him home.
Sales figures aren’t public, but the maker of Tagg, Snaptracs Inc. of San Diego, said it received a major boost when its tracking collar began selling at Apple Store retail locations throughout the United States last spring.
And some pet owners who don’t have such technology often turn to social media for help once their dog is lost.
Local author Dennis Lehane and his wife, Angela, turned to Facebook when their beagle, Tessa, disappeared from their Brookline yard on Christmas Eve. On a special Facebook page, the Lehanes asked people to help hand out flyers at transit stops in Brookline or help search different neighborhoods. They got a huge response.
“I saw people, both friends and strangers, act with total selflessness on behalf of a dog they’d never met or barely knew,” Dennis Lehane said. “They gave up their time, they went out in the cold, they asked for nothing in return.”
Back in Sugar Hill, Lightning is still getting used to his new owner — and jittery from living on his own — so Copson doesn’t let him outside without a leash. And when she is ready to let him run free, the GPS system will keep Lightning in virtual sight. Said Copson, “It’s all about having peace of mind.”
Michael B. Farrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.