Karen Orr, founder and CEO of tech startup PAWS by O-no, seeks funding for iMyK9, a product designed to keep dog owners from leaving their pets in a vehicle for too long.
“Studies show that statistically, at least 5,000 dogs die of heat stroke in America every year,” Orr said at a recent meeting of entrepreneurial group 1 Million Cups in Madison. “And honestly, experts believe this is two or three times that number.”
With millions of dog owners in the United States, and police stations across the country relying on service dogs for explosives detection and search and rescue, Orr is trying to tap into a large market with what is essentially a child monitor for dogs. It lets the owner see, hear and speak to the animal remotely through an app, and is meant to be used primarily by travelers and animal handlers who leave their dogs in the car for short periods of time.
The device — a stripped-down cell phone with no calling features — will also report on variables like temperature and humidity, and will send push notifications if the temperature rises above 85 degrees or falls below 33 degrees.
After the first push notification warning of an unsafe environment for the dog, owners have 90 seconds to respond. At 91 seconds, if the owner hasn’t tapped a button to acknowledge the warning, it will automatically send out four rescue messages the user can pre-install in the iMyK9 app.
These four rescue contacts will get text messages informing them of the situation. Since it’s a cellular device, they get GPS coordinates of where the distressed animal can be found.
In the case that those contacts don’t acknowledge within 90 seconds either, a similar message will be sent out to all of the owner’s social media contacts.
“Somebody’s going to get out there and rescue your pets, because this is an absolutely preventable accident,” Orr said. “I will tell you that when we have talked to law enforcement, search and rescue, detection dog handlers, they absolutely want this, because the very first person on that rescue contact for them is dispatch.”
Of the 50,000 police canine officers in the United States, about nine of those dogs died every year since 2011 because they were forgotten in a vehicle by their partner, Orr said.
Some police canine units already have hard-wired safety systems in their vehicles for this very purpose, but not all, Orr says. And none of those systems transfer to the officers’ other vehicles, so they’re restricted to on-duty death and injury prevention.
Orr’s argument for why iMyK9 is needed is monetary as well as ethical. She says it costs around $2,000 to treat an animal for heat exhaustion, while treating the more advanced condition of heat stroke can cost up to $5,000. And for police dogs, those numbers can be even higher considering the cost of their specific training.
The device will work as part of a major national wireless network, and will cost about $400 for each unit. It’s a modified Samsung Galaxy phone, and has a battery life of about 12 hours, Orr says.
Orr will be launching a Kickstarter campaign for her Madison-based company in August.
“Technology hasn’t caught up with the pet world,” she added. “But we’re here to make that happen.”
–By Alex Moe