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How to track a lost animal

We tested three GPS devices for pets

Consumer Reports magazine: May 2012

Illustration: Alison Seiffer

You can hunt down a misplaced iPhone or a complicated address using GPS—why not a lost dog or cat?

We tested three devices for keeping track of pets. Each has a GPS unit that stays on the pet and communicates with the owner. In testing, our “pet” was often an engineer who wandered around our headquarters while another tester tried to find him.

The Garmin and Tagg devices link to a cell-phone system, and info is accessed on a smart phone or computer. The PetTronix communicates through radio waves with a handset used by the owner. All require GPS communication, so when GPS isn’t available, they don’t work.

PetTronix RoamEO, $200

How it works. Rubber collar with GPS unit and battery compartment communicates by radio with the owner’s handset, which has its own GPS and compass. Handset displays distance and direction to the collar, updating continually. Display can be backlit for night use. This device doesn’t require separate service.

Pluses. When it worked, it worked well, easily tracking a moving target. Use doesn’t require cell-phone coverage or any other subscription.

Minuses. The range depends on the terrain and is at most half a mile. Battery charge lasted about 24 hours, and the two batteries must be recharged separately. So if you leave the collar on your pet because you never know when it will wander, you’ll recharge the batteries a lot. The collar is bulky, so it’s best for medium or big dogs.

Garmin GTU 10, $200

How it works. Zipped nylon case attaches to pet collar with Velcro. Uses AT&T network to communicate and can be tracked from a browser or app on a smart phone. Up to 10 “geofences” can be configured as virtual boundaries. If the pet crosses one, the owner gets an e-mailed warning. This device includes a year of service; there's a $50 annual renewal fee.

Pluses. Unlimited range. Case stayed securely connected. Geofences were easy to configure. Deluxe plan ($4.99 extra per month) allows tracking kids or cars, too.

Minuses. Battery life can be short, and location info updates slowly in the mode that yields the longest battery life.

Tagg Pet Tracker, $100

How it works. Clips to collar. Uses Verizon network and can be tracked from a browser or a smart-phone app. Communication can also be through text messages. One “Tagg Zone” geofence can be configured around the charging station. This device includes one month of service; there's a $7.95 monthly renewal fee.

Pluses. Unlimited range. Tagg and clip stayed secure. Tracking was quick and easy. Tagg Zone was easy to configure.

Minuses. Battery life can be short when the device isn’t near base station. Tagg Zone’s minimum size is about 4 acres—useless if your desired pet area is small.

   

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