View Full Version : GPS System To Track Pets

07-19-2004, 11:34 AM
July 15, 2004
For the Fretting Pet Owner, a Wireless Distress Signal

In the Walt Disney film "The Incredible Journey," two dogs and a cat are
finally reunited with their owners after a long and dangerous cross-country

For many pets, there is no such happy Hollywood ending. In the United States,
only a small percentage of animals separated from their owners are reunited,
according to the American Humane Association.

But wireless technology may one day provide some help both for animals and the
humans who cherish them, whether the pets have strayed across town or across
the border.

In one emerging technology, owners can keep track of their dogs by way of
miniaturized Global Positioning System receivers and mobile modems attached to
the dogs' collars.

"If the pet leaves the yard, you'll get a call on your cellphone, P.D.A., or
any other two-way wireless device," said Jennifer Durst, chief executive of
GPS Tracks in Oyster Bay, N.Y., which has devised a G.P.S.-based system called
the Global Pet Finder.

Ms. Durst said the system would be on the market by the end of the year and
would fit dogs of all sizes except toy breeds. The receiver will cost about
$300 and there will be a monthly "monitoring fee" of about $13, she said.

"Cats will be next year," she said, "in version 2."

People who use the new system can set the boundaries for their dogs at a Web
site or on the miniaturized device itself, specifying how far their pets can
roam. It might be a backyard, Ms. Durst said, or, if both owner and pet are on
vacation, a section of a beach, perhaps, or the area around a motel.

Software checks the pet's position constantly, she said. When it passes the
default boundaries, an automatic alert is triggered and owners receive a text
message. "It will say, 'Your pet has left' and send the exact location," Ms.
Durst said. Locations will be identified by street name and number or, for
certain cellphones, by maps.

"In rural areas with no street signs, you will be given directions from where
you are," Ms. Durst said. The G.P.S. receiver calculates the position, and the
coordinates are translated into a readable position.

The system is designed for any area covered by a G.S.M. cellphone network.
Prominent in Europe and Asia, G.S.M. networks are becoming more common in the
United States, where they are used by T-Mobile and some other providers.

Another application of wireless technology may help reunite pets with their
owners even when the animals are in another country.

Implanted microchip transponders have been used for years in the United States
and elsewhere to identify dogs, cats and other pets. The tags include a
glass-encased microchip with a unique identification number that cannot be
altered but can be read by a low-frequency radio scanner. The number is then
matched to a database to find the pet's owner.

The problem has been that the American and overseas systems are incompatible.
So some organizations in the United States that maintain identification
databases are switching to the international system in the hope of one day
linking American pets and owners to a global database.

The use of microchips has increased steadily, said Sue Richey, who directs the
American Kennel Club's Companion Animal Recovery program. The program keeps a
national database in Raleigh, N.C., in which people can enroll their
microchipped or tattooed pets. "We're getting 55,000 to 70,000 animals a
month," she said, "with a live recovery every eight minutes 24/7."

Right now, most pet microchips and scanners used in the United States operate
on a radio frequency of 125 kilohertz. But the chips used in much of the rest
of the world operate at an international standard of 134.2 kilohertz, Ms.
Richey said.

That disparity can lead to problems when, for example, an American loses a pet
while traveling in a foreign country. "Their scanners can't read our chips,"
said John Snyder, director of companion animals for the Humane Society of the
United States, in Washington.

Several groups have already begun using the 134.2 kilohertz chip, including
the Oregon Humane Society in Portland, which started implanting them in
January, said Sharon Harmon, executive director of the society.

But many shelters do not have scanners that can read the new chips. "It's not
a good thing if we don't have the scanners in place," Mr. Snyder said,
"because animals are being missed.''

Scanners that can read both kinds of chips will be needed, said Jodi Buckman,
director of animal programs for the American Humane Association in Denver.
"It's a mistake to have a technology used only in the U.S.," she said. "One
worldwide standard will provide the ultimate protection for pets."

Pet chips of the future may be different in other ways, too. For one thing,
they may be updatable. At this point information on the microchips cannot be
changed, meaning that new developments in a medical history, for example,
can't be added.

But Walt Ingwersen, a veterinarian in Whitby, Ontario, who has served as
chairman of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association's microchip committee,
said that smarter, read-write chips are on the way. Dr. Ingwersen is now a
member of a technical committee that is developing international standards for
the advanced transponders. "The animal's ID number will remain the same on the
chip," he said, "but the contents will be updatable."

Sue Sternberg, a shelter owner and dog trainer in Accord, N.Y., said she
welcomed G.P.S.-based tracking devices and implanted microchips.

"We get a dog sometimes and we know it is a beloved pet that has traveled a
long distance," she said. "In that case, a microchip would be a great thing."

Norma Bennett Woolf, editor of Dog Owner's Guide, an online magazine, agreed.
"Too many owners are heartbroken at the loss of their pets," she said.
"Technology has a lot of potential here to get dogs home to their families."