Calling all Dogs
Fido's First Cell Phone
By Jenn Shreve
Lost dog? As of next March, pet owners will be able to drop the photocopier and staple gun and pick up the phone instead. That's when PetCell, the first cell phone for dogs, is due to hit pet-store shelves.
Hung off Fido's collar, the PetCell is a bone-shaped cell phone that will let dog owners talk to their best friend over a two-way speaker.
Developed by PetsMobility, the PetCell works with standard cellular networks and has its own number. It automatically answers when the owner punches in a code on their telephone keypad that means, "Lassie, come home!"
The PetCell will ship in early 2006 and will sell for $350 to $400, the company said.
President Cameron Robb said he got the idea for the phone while sharing a hotel room with a colleague at a convention.
"I overheard him talking to his dogs," said Robb. "I was mimicking and making fun of it, but the reality was his wife was holding the phone down to the dog."
The ability to track a lost pet has most dog lovers excited. The PetCell has a "call owner" button in case Rover strays. It also includes assisted GPS, or A-GPS, which works indoors, allowing dog owners to map their pup's coordinates from any web-enabled device or by dialing a voice-enabled call center.
"When dogs disappear, it's the first 15 minutes that are the most important," said San Francisco dog trainer Youngblood Harris. "If your dog runs out of the dog park and you don't see if he went left or right, (PetCell) would make life a lot easier," Harris said.
The PetCell will also have an option called GeoFence that will alert owners whenever their dog wanders beyond preset parameters, and built-in temperature sensors to indicate if the dog is too hot or cold.
Additionally, the PetCell will support a small wireless camera, an application Robb believes could be useful in search-and-rescue or bomb-squad missions. But for patrons of doggy day care, it may become the canine equivalent of a nanny cam.
While a cell phone for pets may strike some as silly, the economic reality is not. The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association says U.S. pet owners spent an estimated $35.9 billion on their furry friends in 2005.
Sturdy and slobber-resistant, the PetCell isn't just for dogs.
PetsMobility's parent company, On4 Communications, is simultaneously rolling out models for kids, the elderly and outdoor sports fanatics who enjoy snowboarding and kayaking.
"It's a rugged, waterproof cell phone with GPS, so there's a bunch of other markets for that technology besides the pet industry," Robb said.
One obvious user is left out of this calling plan. At 3 inches long, the PetCell is too unwieldy for your average feline. Although the company is working on further miniaturization, the battery has proven to be a formidable obstacle.
Still, Robb wasn't ruling it out. He said optimistically, "The kitties will have to wait."