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Tracking Your Lost Dog with Canine GPS

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Many dog owners are opting for GPS tracking devices for their pet, in the event their dog runs off. Consider this story: When Vivi, the champion whippet escaped from her travel kennel at JFK Airport in New York in February 2006, her owners relied on finding her the old-fashioned way -- calling her name and scrutinizing every nook and cranny.

"We put up flyers with Vivi's photo in the surrounding neighborhoods and went door-to-door asking everyone if they saw a long and skinny white dog with mahogany brindle markings,'' said Honi Reisman, a friend of the owners. Vivi's owners combed through more than 4,000 acres by hiring a helicopter and a psychic, and they begged a Port Authority official to search the marsh in a wetsuit.

But dogs don't have to fly the friendly skies to become separated from their owners. Many slip through the gate or front door, scale the backyard fence or are allowed to roam free. While some loose dogs are recovered, most, like Vivi, are never seen again. In fact, one four-footed companion disappears every three seconds, with millions lost each year, experts say.

New technology gets results

Global positioning systems (GPS) may change this statistic. Originally developed by the United States Department of Defense to track aircraft, the same technology now finds missing pets. "Owners can use this real-time location information to quickly and accurately pinpoint a dog or cat who goes AWOL,'' said Simon Buckingham, CEO of Zoombak, one of several new GPS pet locator services.

Designed for dogs or cats over 11 pounds, this hi-tech animal tracker fits neatly inside a water-resistant pouch and attaches to a pet collar. The tiny GPS device can weigh between 2.5 and 5 ounces and uses rechargeable batteries that last up to five days.

Most GPS devices track dogs within a half-mile radius and send a text message to a cell phone or a computer whenever the dog leaves the predetermined boundary. Along with directions and maps for finding the dog, updates are delivered every few minutes. "You still have to go pick the dog up, but at least you know where to look,'' Buckingham said.

Traditionally owners have relied on identification tags on their dogs' collars to help find their dogs if they get lost, but like GPS systems, if the collar falls off or someone removes it, any chance of the pet being returned home is slim.


Another way to reconnect is through microchipping. Easily implanted by a veterinarian between the dog's shoulder blades, this permanent ID device contains the owner's name, address and phone number. Veterinarians and shelters have a special hand-held scanner that retrieves this information so that the owners can be contacted. The downside to microchips is that someone who finds a wayward dog may not take it someplace where this technology is available.

Whatever identification system people prefer, losing a pet is traumatic for the animal and the owner. According to two studies published in the Jan. 15, 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, "More owners will be able to safely recover their animals by knowing ahead of time which search methods are most effective.''

A few ways to find absentee pets include:

  • Placing articles of clothing with the owner's scent outside the home to entice the animal to return
  • Checking the newspapers for "found'' ads
  • Advertising in all local publications for a lost pet

Besides thoroughly searching the neighborhood and posting many flyers with a current photo of the lost pet within a one-mile radius of where it was last seen, it also helps to look for a missing pet at local animal shelters every day or two. You never know where a wayward whippet may turn up.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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