Virtually every house in which I have lived—sixteen in all—I have chosen with dogs in mind, especially whether there was a place nearby where they could run freely—a park, golf course, long stretch of beach, university campus, even an abandoned quarry. There was no other choice for me. I knew I would become a basket case without exercise, and I could expect no less of my dogs. Stuck in a home or apartment all day, walked on a short leash, if at all, any self-respecting dog, no matter its size, would eventually go mental.
Our dogs’ need for exercise has also guided our decisions on what to do with them when we travel together. For a while we had an excellent kennel which had a fenced area of several acres where the dogs could run or swim, but Hurricane Andrew blew that away in 1992.
Since then we have relied on dog sitters with average to excellent results in terms of dog care. That we live on Miami Beach a short walk from the ocean makes recruitment easier, but that has proven a mixed blessing. Over the years we have found that the level of care the dogs have received has been inversely related to the amount of time their watcher has devoted to Miami Beach nightlife.
The few times we have used dog walkers to cover for us in an emergency have been disastrous. The last one, some years ago, was a professional who came highly recommended but decided after day one that the intrepid kelpies-—Kate Two Brain and her side pal Harley Pull Hard—were too difficult to walk. We found out after the fact that she would just throw them in the backyard for short periods a couple times a day. For all of her shortcomings, she was better than our first dog walker in Miami who didn’t even let the dogs out.
It was with some wonderment then that I read an email from Larissa Vila touting Swifto a dog walking service in New York City that allows clients to follow their pooch’s progress in real time, with a marker laid down for poop and another for play time. The walker can also send photos from along the route.
The creation of Penina First, an Israeli entrepreneur who migrated to New York and quickly saw a need she could fill, this clever app ties the GPS capabilities found in smartphones to Google Maps, meaning it is transportable to other locales.
Like other reputable services, Swifto has workers who are bonded and insured. Many appear to be college educated. The company hopes to expand to Miami or San Diego before the New Year, Vila said in an email.
Curious about this use of GPS technology, I investigated and found that this year has seen the launch of several apps available for the iPhone and Android phones that provide real time tracking of your dog’s walk and are available to individuals and companies—Veriwalk and Pet Check Technology are two of those, while others are geared more to letting individuals track their own dogs through a collar mounted GPS device.
Pet Check bills itself as the total program for a dog walking business, including scheduling and bookkeeping, as well as tracking. New York City has at least one other dog-walking service touting its interactive dog walks. More apps will surely follow, like one transmitting video shot from the perspective of the dog walker or dog or both.
I can easily imagine a whole series of jokes and cartoons about “helicopter dog companions” obsessing over their dog’s excrement or objecting to her playmates.
But I am hard pressed to see how these programs can do anything other than help housebound dogs receive the kind of walks they need and deserve.