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Tech Savvy: Dogs go digital: Apps for pet care

Ansel, dog owned by community editor Chelsey Perkins, sits for a photo in his backyard. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 4
Bella (left) and Bailey are Brittany Meyers' two dogs, companions for the many dogs she offers boarding in her home to through the Rover app. Submitted photo2 / 4
Brittany Meyer is a dog sitter through the Rover app. Submitted3 / 4
This summer, community editor Chelsey Perkins' dog suffered an allergic reaction causing his face to swell. The issue was remedied by administering Benadryl. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch4 / 4

Any busy dog owner knows the feeling: you're away from home preoccupied with work or play, when suddenly you're struck by the guilt of knowing your beloved canine is home alone, waiting patiently for your return.

In a world where bringing Rover along wherever you go just isn't possible—or practical—the website and mobile phone app Rover seeks to meet the needs of your furry friend with the help of other trusted dog lovers. The site boasts its the largest network in the country of "five-star pet sitters and dog walkers" and is available in more than 10,000 cities.

This includes those in the Brainerd lakes area. A search based on Brainerd's ZIP code shows eight sitters and walkers available, ranging from $25-$50 depending on the services offered.

Brittany Meyer, 20, of Brainerd, is one of those. Meyer said she joined the site as a pet care provider because she loves dogs.

"My fiance wouldn't let me get another one, so he said, 'You can watch them,'" Meyer said.

Along with her Australian-Labrador mix Bailey and her pitbull-boxer mix Bella, Meyer welcomes up to two additional dogs at her home for day care and overnight stays. She said since joining the site six months ago, she's consistently cared for two or three dogs each month, ranging from a weekend stay to a couple weeks at a time.

In addition to boarding, Meyer also offers drop-in visits at the owner's home for up to 30 minutes and 30-minute walks. Some Rover sitters also offer staying in the dog owner's home overnight, although Meyer does not offer this particular service. She will give dogs baths while they board at her home, though, and offer them lots of treats and play time in her fenced-in backyard with her own pets. She sends owners photos and written updates for the dogs she's cared for, so far ranging from 20 pounds up to 100 pounds, from goldendoodle to a German shorthair.

Rover takes precautions with its sitters. Meyer said she was required to pass a background check and to take some tests demonstrating her qualifications. The site offers Meyer and other sitters an emergency hotline if sitters have questions about dog care, or if a dog bites the sitter or someone else. She said the company offers insurance included in a dog's stay should the pooch become sick or hurt and need to visit a veterinarian.

Meyer set her overnight stay price at $25 per night, a rate each sitter can choose on their own. Rover takes 20 percent of that, she said, to cover the services it offers. Her own privacy is protected along with those of the dog owners, Meyer explained. Text messages are sent and received through the app, so personal phone numbers are never revealed. Payments are also processed through the app using Paypal.

How much does Meyer typically make with Rover? She said it's been a nice side income for her, since she works part-time otherwise. Last month, she earned $350 from Rover, she said.

"I just love being able to interact with other dogs," Meyer said. "The way my dogs enjoy it, and the way their dogs enjoy it."

First aid and community aid

Two other pet-related apps caught my eye while looking into Rover—the Pet First Aid app created by the American Red Cross, and Walk for a Dog, an app designed to track one's walks while earning money for an animal shelter or rescue organization of your choice.

This summer, I could have used the Pet First Aid app myself when my sweet little pup Ansel came in from a romp outside with a swollen lip. It quickly escalated into a swollen head, his muzzle a disconcerting double the size and his eyes sunken deep into his irritated and expanding flesh.

A call to the emergency vet hotline meant leaving a message and waiting for a call back, unaware how dire Ansel's circumstance might be. Although certainly helpful, the vet on the other line ended up offering what was likely a routine answer for her—try giving your dog Benadryl, she said, and see if the swelling goes down. He was most likely stung by a bee or bitten by an insect, she said, and it was a common reaction. Eight hours later, my sleepy boy's face looked considerably more like him and all was well.

With the app, I would have known the answer much quicker without rousing the emergency vet on a weekend. Priced at 99 cents, the app, available only for iPhone, offers five sections of information for either a dog or a cat: a section to learn what's normal behavior, to prepare for hotel stays or giving a pet medication, how to respond in an emergency—including first aid instructions for a variety of ailments—and a hospital locator, the ability to create pet profiles and track vet appointments, and even a section offering quizzes and the chance to earn badges and share with friends.

While it certainly doesn't replace a veterinarian, it can give a pet owner confidence in dealing with minor situations and offer solid advice on being as prepared as possible for your pet's care.

Walk for a Dog isn't your typical walk tracking app. Each step recorded in the app offers the opportunity to raise funds for an organization that helps other canines and felines find a forever home. All you have to do is track your walk with your dog through the app—and that's it. The length of the walk doesn't matter, but rather, the name of the game is frequency.

According to the app's developer, Wooftrax: "Funds from each donation period are divided among shelters and rescues based on the number of people who are actively walking for each organization as seen on the Impact tab of the app. The more active walkers per donation period, the more (and more often!) that organization receives donations."

Funds are collected through sponsorships and advertising, another reason the app thrives from more active walkers. The best part is, you don't need a dog to participate in raising funds for your community. You can choose an option "Walk for Cassie," meant to represent a shelter dog, or you can create your dream dog through the app and dream of the day you can add a pet to the family.

Heartland Animal Rescue Team in Baxter is available for fundraising through the app. Walk for a Dog also offers the ability to make a direct gift to the organization of your choice as well, and offers a significant amount of information for shelters or rescue organizations seeking to use the app for fundraising purposes.

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in professional journalism at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Perkins interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins, and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before becoming the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as the county government beat reporter at the Dispatch and a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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