A survey was done a few years ago by the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) relating to lost pets. In the random survey, 15% of the surveyed pet owners had lost a cat or dog in the past 5 years; and out of those lost pets, 49% of the dogs had been found and 30% of the cats had been found by owners searching their nearby neighborhoods.
Many “missing pet” parents hung up posters, visited local vets and shelters, and enlisted neighbors in their search to find their missing friend. It is a frightening experience for pet parents, desperately and somewhat aimlessly searching for a beloved lost pet.
Wouldn’t it be much more helpful if an owner was alerted at the exact moment when Fido or Fluffy strayed too far? And along with that early alert system, wouldn’t it be great if an owner had a tracking device that actually led them to find their little furry escape artist?
While many people do think to put identification tags on their pets, and many also microchip their pets in case they are lost, both of those are very passive safety methods. Someone has to find your pet and act, either contacting you or bringing your pet to a vet to be scanned, prior to your getting your pet back. In the meantime, you might not even know Fido or Fluffy has escaped!
So what’s a pet owner to do?
Today there are many products being offered that address this exact problem. Sometimes called pet GPS trackers, pet monitors or even pet “wearables” (in keeping with the human “fitness wearable” frenzy), there are many devices available.
In general there are 2 types of tracking devices dependent on the underlying technology:
• Radio frequency trackers
• GPS trackers
Radio frequency: Radio is not dependent on internet or cell phone provider infrastructure so is often thought of as older technology, but it works. And if the frequency is using a penetrating frequency, it will work behind/inside buildings and walls (if your pet is hiding). There is a range limit with radio frequency, but depending on the device that can still be up to several miles. The benefit of this type of device is there is not a monthly subscription fee. Radio products may give you less specific location information (like having a map or providing directions to your pet); and instead lead you to your pet by showing signal strength. Because it doesn’t utilize GPS, batteries last much longer before needing to be recharged.
GPS trackers: These devices depend on GPS satellite signals, so no GPS signal and the device won’t work (a good way to think about GPS is that it requires “open sky” to work; so indoors, in certain terrain and in areas that the particular network provider doesn’t have good coverage, you’ll see service gaps). These devices have monthly service fees (because you are paying for network usage to some provider, either internet or cellular), and some are restricted to a particular carrier (AT & T or Verizon, for example).
Most GPS trackers send tracking info to your computer or a mobile device, and most have applications on those devices that show a map and other location services. A few work with separate receivers (purchased with the tracking device) that you must have in hand in order to track your pet.
Questions to ask when evaluating a pet tracker
Do your homework as there are many variations available. In general, products for cats are very limited due to the weight of the tracking device. Here are a few other questions you will want to ask:
• Weight of device and recommended size of pet (most are for pets greater than 10 lbs.)?
• Upfront and monthly fees? What timeframe are you committing to? Annual or monthly?
• Device warranty (and do monthly service fees cover device repair/replacement)?
• Range of tracking (and limitations, such as no ability to track indoors or out of the US)?
• Battery life and ease of use (all of these devices have batteries in the tracker! It is important for you to understand how many batteries come with the product, as some come with two so you can always be charging one while your pet wears the other; how long is the battery life so that you are not having to recharge the battery daily; how easy is it to remove the battery for recharging without removing the device from your pet)? GPS uses a lot of battery, so GPS trackers will generally not have as great of battery life over radio frequency devices.
• Does the service/device allow you to set up safe zones/acceptable ranges and alerts? (so you can allow your dog to roam your large yard, but you get texted when Fido roams beyond the acceptable boundary you set up)? Think of these as virtual fences. • How often does the data refresh? Does it automatically alert you or do you have to check with the device/application in order to know your pet has strayed?
• Is the device the pet wears water-resistant or water-proof (can Fido go for a swim or just get splashed!)?
• What do other pet parents think of the product…check out user reviews! Especially relating to seeing others’ reviews relating to quality of the product and support.
Other features you may be interested in
More and more the pet tracking companies are adding other features, so you may want to do some research on these as well. A few of the ones we saw added activity monitoring (more like fitness trackers, measuring health signs such as pulse, temperature, respiration and activity level), 2 way radios (so you can hear what your pet is doing and you can talk to your pet!), and lights on the device that can be activated from the pet owner to blink when the pet is lost, etc.
Get your pet chipped and have them wear ID
Regardless of whether you opt to invest in a tracker for your furry friend, please do get your pet chipped. The statistics on the effectiveness of getting a lost pet having a microchip returned prove out that it is an important step! A study of more than 7,700 animals at animal shelters showed that microchipped dogs were returned to their owners 52.2% of the time (non-microchipped dogs were returned only 21.9% of the time). Chipping is an easy procedure and typically costs around $45 or less. You must ensure your pet is registered in the appropriate system (and keep that data current if you move).