JOSE, Calif. ó Bun Bun the rabbit saw his chance for
freedom, and he hopped to it.
any other day, panic would have stricken his owner, my
brother Seth, as Bun Bun vanished into a thicket. The
dappled bunny is ordinarily confined to a cage or
outdoor pen to keep him safe from marauding predators
and fast-moving cars and trucks on a nearby road.
Bun Bun was wearing a fancy gadget on his collar that
was supposed to allow us to keep track of him via a
smartphone app. There was no reason to worry ó until
it quickly became apparent the app didnít work.
my brother and I discovered and many others know, a lost
pet means panic, frantic calculations of direction and
distance and stomach-churning worst-case fears about
what might be happening to the cherished animal at that
very moment. Tech companies are hoping to ease those
fears with tracking devices designed specifically to
help owners keep tabs on their furry friends.
Unfortunately, as we found out, not all of them work as
tested three such devices, which use various
combinations of technology including GPS, cellular, WiFi
and Bluetooth. The results? One clear winner, one that
tracked decently enough but had numerous flaws, and one
whose app didnít work, leading to a low-tech bunny
trackers are a small piece of the $60 billion
pet-products market, but theyíre starting to catch on.
Research firm Technavio projects 16 percent annual
growth in the market for trackers and similar wearable
pet devices through 2020 as the value of the segment
climbs from 2015ís $890 million to $1.9 billion.
three gadgets I tested fasten to an animalís collar
and are supposed to allow the owners to find their
wayward beasts on a smartphone map. Plus, the trackers I
tested allow users to set safety zones around their petís
domestic location, and receive an alert when the animal
breaches the invisible perimeter.
put the Whistle GPS Pet Tracker on Bun Bun, and also
worked with the folks at the Santa Cruz County Animal
Shelter, fastening a Gibi tracker onto Darlette, a
small, puffy white poodle mix, and a Pod device onto
Piper, a bright-eyed terrier mix. I tracked the dogs by
smartphone on their morning walk with a volunteer and a
shelter staff member.
Whistle and Pod devices also allow for monitoring a petís
activity level, but I did not test that function.
Bun, a sociable rabbit the size of a small housecat,
proved a worthy test subject ó he got lost faster than
you could say "whereís that rabbit?" Shelter
mutts Darlette and Piper also played effective roles as
tracking-device quarry, ambling down to Woods Lagoon on
a sunny morning. I followed them for about an hour on a
smartphone, spending about a third of that time on
speakerphone with a man from Gibi customer service who
outlined the limitations of the device and app.
had no problems to speak of with the Pod device.
Tracking was easy, as the app showed the positions of
the dog wearing the device and of the person following
the dog by phone, and could refresh the animalís
location quickly, usually inside 30 seconds. Alerts
about the tracking device exiting the safe zone arrived
Pod even comes with two batteries, so the device can be
kept running and charged at all times.
only complaint with the Pod was the method of fastening
it to a petís collar: essentially a rubbery strap
resembling a zip tie. It was hard to tell if it was
attached properly. The strap did the job, though, and
withstood serious efforts to break it with brute force.
contrast to the Pod, Gibi has a major flaw: when
tracking on a smartphone, the location of that device
ó and the person using it ó isnít shown on the
map, making it hard to navigate with relation to the petís
location. While you might assume a tracking device would
tell you how to get from where you are to your lost pet,
thatís "not a reasonable expectation at this
time," a Gibi customer-service rep told me.
the service rep suggested that a user out tracking a
lost pet should be on the phone with someone following
the pet on a laptop or desktop computer "and have
them give you directions to the dog."
the app has other annoying bugs. If any background apps
are running while Gibi is up, Gibi gets bumped down in
priority and the user can only refresh the petís
location by logging in and out of the app, a company
tech expert told me, adding that the firm was working on
"safe zone" function cleverly allows users to
set a customized shape ó for example the outline of a
home or property. Whenever the pet leaves the zone, the
user is to receive an alert.
alert system worked, when I brought the device out of
the zone. But when I left the Gibi device in the zone to
mimic a dog at home, I received daily emails telling me
that my imaginary pet "Rover" had left the
zone, or returned to it ó while the device was sitting
on a table within the zone.
said this issue likely had to do with variability in GPS
accuracy, but it occurred even with the safe zone set up
considerably larger than the house, which is supposed to
prevent the problem.
shortcoming: When I tried to charge the Gibi tracker,
its power cord kept falling out.
its favor, Gibi did accurately locate the dog.
bad as Gibi was, the Whistle setup was worse; it didnít
work at all. Whistleís app repeatedly failed to
identify the deviceís correct location. A Whistle
customer service rep suggested perhaps a nearby
refrigerator or the local airport was causing the
problem, but the issue remained when I tested the device
far from any airport and away from large appliances.
a Whistle spokesperson described my problem as uncommon
and said it likely had to do with the base unit, which
itself is a problem. While itís relatively easy to
change a safe zone for the Pod or Gibi device, for
example when bringing the pet to someone elseís home
on a visit, the safe zone for Whistle requires the base
unit to be at the center of it.
Whistle user working at the Silicon Valley Humane
Society said she has two of the trackers, and they work
well, after she sent one back that didnít.
has just unveiled a new version, the Whistle 3 for
$79.95, that allows for multiple safe zones and has rid
itself of the base unit, relying instead on along with
GPS and Bluetooth for, according to company CEO Ben
Jacobs, much better performance.
for the errant Bun Bun, all ended well. After about 15
minutes of beating the bushes, we managed to find the
rabbit and return him to the safety of his pen, no
thanks to Whistle. Now that we know, next time, weíll
use the Pod.
GPS Pet Tracker
News rating: 2 (out of 10)
Responsive customer service.
App didnít work; base unit necessary for creating safe
zone; relatively large size.
$49.95 for device. Service subscription ranges from
$6.95 to $9.95 per month, depending on length of plan.
News rating: 4 (out of 10)
Customizable safe zone in any shape or size; responsive
Loose cord/charger connection; inability to see where
you are on the map while tracking; buggy app.
$99 for device. Service plan costs $9.99/month or
News rating: 9 (out of 10)
Easy tracking; compact size; extra battery included.
Fastener resembles a zip tie.
$199 for device. Service plan is free for one year, then