Where’s Fido? High-tech tags help pet owners retrieve lost pals

There’s nothing dog or cat lovers fear more than losing their trusted companions. But a new technology from a Seattle startup might allay concerns next time the kitty or canine bolts out the front door. PetHub.com — which just closed a $200,000 angel financing round — has developed a high-tech ID tag that uses QR codes to help pet owners track down lost cats or dogs quickly.

The metal ID tags feature the 2D barcodes on one side and a Web address on the other, both of which link to a profile page on PetHub for the lost dog or cat. If an owner loses his or her pet, they can update the contact page to include cell phones or other pertinent information in order to expedite a safe return of the animal.

PetHub, a graduate of the Founder Institute program in Seattle, is trying to protect pets and the privacy of the owners, says founder Tom Arnold.

“If you don’t want your personal information shown when the tag is scanned, you can use PetHub.com as a proxy. A user who has found and scanned your pet’s ID tag can click on a “Contact Pet Owner” button, fill out a form, confirm they’re human by completing the captcha text field, and sending their message through us to the owners confirmed email address. Another popular approach people take is to list their doggie daycare as the contact. This way if the pet is taken to the daycare the pet has a safe place to wait and the daycare people know the pet.”

Of course, while QR codes have started to appear in more places in recent years, they’ve hardly gone mainstream in the U.S. And the number of people who actually have the bar-code reading software on their iPhones or Android devices is pretty slim.

Nonetheless, the QR codes have certain advantages over competing technologies. Microchips, for example, are implanted just under the pet’s skin.

Arnold notes that microchips force those who find the animal to take the pet to a shelter or veterinarian, rather than contacting the owner or pet care facility directly. Furthermore, he cites research indicating that just five percent of pets have microchip technology in their bodies, and more often than not the information is outdated with incorrect addresses or phone numbers.

PetHub's Tom Arnold

Arnold, who has worked in the Seattle software industry for more than 20 years, including stints at Asymetrix, Microsoft and ST Labs, has plenty to worry about when it comes to tracking the whereabouts of pets. He owns two cats, and a new puppy named Ullr that he’s training for mountain search and rescue missions.

In fact, he came up with the idea for PetHub three ago while managing a project for Microsoft in Hyderabad, India. The stint turned from a month long assignment into a three month assignment, and Arnold was left wondering how to care for his pets.

“Because I travel a lot — 36 countries and counting — for business and pleasure, I needed a way to not only find trustworthy people to care for my animals, I wanted simple updates,”  he says. “Such updates as making sure the sitter(s) are getting into the house ok (e.g. no lost keys or alarm issues), the cats aren’t coughing up more than the requisite number of hairballs, and the dog didn’t have puppies.”

PetHub’s tags have been available for free in Seattle for since last October, with about 3,000 tags distributed to date. The company just launched a nationwide push, with plans to charge $9 per tag starting at the end of March. Arnold also is planning to introduce a premium subscription service, which could eventually integrate messaging from dog walkers, breeders or trainers.

“Imagine being at work and getting a text that Rover’s account had a new entry from the dog sitter saying they were able to get into the house okay and had a great walk with the dog,” said Arnold. “As a pet owner, a simple text update like that is a good feeling.”

John Cook is co-founder of GeekWire, a technology news site based in Seattle.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steve-Murch/705204492 Steve Murch

    Great idea! I also think this type of concept would apply well to luggage and expensive articles like cameras. (There are enough people who are good citizens, and the occasional reward might also be offered.)

  • Anonymous

    I got one of these tags for my dog and absolutely love it. If I could just get King County to sync up all of the license info with this tag, I’d love it even more.

  • Anonymous

    These tags are awesome!

  • Anonymous

    This article is blatantly dog-biased. What, dogs all have names but lowly cats don’t? Where’s the journalistic integrity and non-biased perspective?

    Just kidding… congratulations on the new publication! :-)

    • johnhcook

      Yeah, guess, I am dog biased. I’ve got an 80-pound flat coated
      retriever at home. :)

  • http://twitter.com/gglockner Greg Glockner

    Just what the world doesn’t need: another proprietary database of pet ID information. Because the RFID chips embedded in pets already have their own proprietary databases of pet IDs. So now we’ll have another with the flavor of the month, QR codes. Which can be broken, chewed or otherwise lost. So what was the problem with RFID pet chips that wasn’t solved already? That everyone doesn’t have an RFID reader? Big deal – the RFID chips frequently ship with additional tags containing a phone number, a URL and a human-readable serial number.

    • http://www.puzzazz.com Roy Leban

      More complex technology isn’t always better.

      * It costs $50 to get your pet chipped and the vast majority of pets are not chipped.
      * There are multiple types of chips and not all shelters can read them all – pets that had chips have been euthanized at shelters because the shelter didn’t have the right type of reader and no identification could be found.
      * To read a chip, you have to go to some place with a special reader rather than just scanning the tag on your phone, and you have to pay to have the chip read, (even if it turns out the pet doesn’t have a chip after all) – and how many people who don’t own pets even know a pet can have a chip embedded in it? I bet many pet owners don’t know.
      * There is no central database of chip information (admittedly, this doesn’t help that problem, but chips are not a complete solution).

      With this solution, the pet owner controls the information and the access, and anybody can read it to contact the owner.

  • Jonbacchus

    I’m loving that it lets me enter my pet license info and condense down to one tag. Pretty slick.

  • http://www.pettagsdirect.com Pet Tags

    I knew QR Codes were used for Google Places but never knew they would be used for pet tags, that’s pretty hi-tech. The only issue I can think of is that the finder might be an older person or someone who isn’t internet savvy or might not even have a pc. QR codes might be an alien concept to them.

    • Tom Arnold

      Yup, that was a concern when we designed it, so we added the web address as part of the tag. Side note: we just launched a new feature where the GPS location is emailed to the pet owner when the pet ID tag is scanned. People are lovin’ it! (affordable GPS for the masses :-D

    • Tom Arnold

      Yup, that was a concern when we designed it, so we added the web address as part of the tag. Side note: we just launched a new feature where the GPS location is emailed to the pet owner when the pet ID tag is scanned. People are lovin’ it! (affordable GPS for the masses :-D

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