Having a dog or cat go missing is an experience all pet owners dread. Rose Tang, a certified professional animal trainer and behaviour counsellor, says the basics of ensuring a pet's safety include a well-fitted and secure collar with a leash, an ID tag and a microchip with up-to-date information, and training an animal to respond to a recall using positive reinforcement methods.

Tang tells of a woman who, after searching for her lost dog for three months, came across a skinny stray that she took home. The dog had severely matted fur, so she had it shaved. She then took it to see her vet, who after scanning the microchip, matched it with her long-lost dog. "The stray dog was completely unrecognisable and, after the shave, even more so. The owner was ecstatic - what are the chances and after so many months?"

Another way to avoid losing a pet, especially a dog that tends to run away when it's off-leash, is by using a pet tracker. Tang has reviewed three of the devices.

The Tile (www.thetileapp.com) is a small, light (7g), low-energy Bluetooth device that can be attached to a pet's collar. It tracks the location using a smartphone app, with proximity displayed on the device's screen and measured by illuminated sections. If the pet is out of sight, there is a Find function, which makes The Tile start beeping. It has a range of up to 45 metres.

Tang says the app also has the potential to automatically and anonymously help other pet owners in their search. "It's a cool idea. But, essentially, it'll require an extensive number of owners to blanket the whole of Hong Kong for it to effectively trace a lost pet who could be anywhere."

A downside is the battery, which, Tang says, has only a one-year life. "The battery is completely sealed, making it resistant to water, but it's not rechargeable nor changeable. When it dies, you have to buy a new tracker."

DOTT Pet Tracker (www.ourpetfinder.com) is a waterproof, location-based product that uses iBeacon technology. It's new to the market and is only in the pre-order phase. The company is promoting it as a collar attached to a phone through a virtual leash, which will work better the more users there were.

"If your pet is lost, the device on [its] collar sends a beacon in a 75-metre radius to everyone with the same app installed," Tang says. If someone finds your pet, they can access its profile, which includes information such as diet and any special needs.

The device weighs 20g. But, like The Tile, it needs to be replaced once the battery dies, with the manufacturer accepting the old batteries.

Tractive GPS Pet Tracker (www.connected.hk) uses the same concept as the Find My iPhone app - the device helps owners locate a pet in real time using cellular phone networks.

"Unlike other devices that rely on other application users or Bluetooth proximity to locate the pet, this device can broadcast to the owner directly because it is actually a mini-smartphone with a GPS chip and SIM card, which uses the standard mobile phone network," Tang says.

It weighs 35g and is recommended for animals weighing more than 4.5kg. It costs about HK$1 per day for a basic cellular data plan with Hong Kong mobile coverage and can work in more than 80 other countries with an upgraded plan. Tang says the device has a battery life of two to five days, and it can be fully recharged in two hours. There's also a small light and a beeper which can be remotely activated to help find pets in the dark.

"A safe zone can be set up and easily adjusted to between a 50- and 500-metre radius, which works like a virtual fence. Whenever your pet crosses the preset perimeter, you will be notified on your smartphone or via e-mail."

The waterproof device keeps a 24-hour record of one or more pets' location anywhere in Hong Kong that has mobile coverage.

"Bluetooth and iBeacon trackers are a cool new category, but they're in their infancy," Tang says. "If you're likely to lose your pet at IFC or when out with other dog walkers with the same products, they may be useful. If it's lost outdoors and you have no idea of the location, the best bet is GPS. It's worth the investment, because finding a lost pet is truly priceless."

If an owner does lose their pet, Tang suggests they visit a dedicated page on the SPCA website, www.spca.org.hk/en/services/lost-your-beloved-pet It has a wealth of helpful information and contacts, should they be needed. 

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