Where's the dog gone?

Amazon, in their quest to keep on selling me stuff, have just sent me an email about the Zoombak, which is a GPS system to help you keep tabs on your pets. Amazon say:

Is your pet the adventurous type? Do you often catch them whistling the theme tune to "The Great Escape" whilst trying to look innocent? Are they regularly found exploring the neighbourhood for treats when they should be safe indoors?

It isn't cheap, this bit of kit - £75.00 or thereabouts, and £9.99 a month for the service. My initial, possibly rather judgemental thought was that that amount would buy you a decent amount of dog training, and wouldn't it be better to tackle the problem at source, and end up with a reliable dog, rather than chuck technology at it but still have the same basic problem: a dog that does its own thing rather than yours? Plus, you may know where your dog is with this thing, but knowing isn't the same as catching up with it. They can move faster than you can.

The manufacturers also say you will know where your dog is if it's stolen. This is assuming that any thief is a paid up member of the bozone layer and will not remove that rather noticeable collar the moment they've got the dog.

I then saw that you could track what your pet got up to, and I thought it might be quite fun to know where the cat disappeared to, but the thing is recommended for animals over 7kg and I'm pretty certain cat, who is very small indeed, is nowhere near that.

Rather more creepily, the manufacturers suggest that if you have the car model in your car, you can use it to keep tabs on where your teenager is, which again is assuming a remarkable dopiness on the part of the teenager. My teenager is as likely to get a car as he is to get up voluntarily at 6.00am and greet me with a cheery hug, but it would be the work of seconds for him to decide that the car he and his mates used to go out in would not be the one with the kiddy tracker. And the manufacturers are forgetting that cars can be parked; at stations even.

A quick look at other things Amazon buyers of the Zoombak bought included child tracking systems. It does make me wonder how my mother coped, when my sister and I would pack up a picnic and go off on our bikes for the day. It is stomach churning when you send your child off out for the first time alone (though my last post might lead you to think I did this without a second thought, I didn't.) Son went to school on his own from the age of 7, though I am ashamed to say daughter was not allowed until she was 8 - for no good reason other than that she seemed more vulnerable to me because she was a girl. The first time they both went, I was hanging out of front attic window, until they turned the corner, then shooting across, leaning out of the opposite attic window until they were out of sight, and resisting the temptation to ring school to check they had got there alright.

It would have been tempting to have checked up on their transmitters that first day - no, it would have been impossible not to have done it. I've been sitting here mulling, and I don't know if it's better to let your child out with the bit of kit, if that's the only way you're going to do it, or keep them inside, kitless. Or trust them to get out there on their own and survive.


Juliet said…
My son will soon be going off on his Year 6 residential holiday down in Devon. Mobile phones are not to be taken, it says in bold type on the kit list. It is explained on the notes that this is because the staff prefer to help children to get over their homesickness, as part of the learning process which this trip is designed to fulfil. In fact, a seasoned teacher whispered to me, the kids have such a whale of a time that homesickness is rarely a problem. The year they *did* allow mobile phones, they were plagued by calls from anxious parents 'just checking that everything was ok'. Several times a day. To 70-odd kids. For a whole week.

I'd probably have been unable to resist myself, so I'm really quite pleased the phone will be staying at home.
Gillian said…
I saw some trailers for a 'cotton-wool kids' programme that was on a few months back, where a mother was talking seriously about having her kids microchipped. I thought it was quite terrifying.

I do have my cats microchipped, so if they wander and are found by someone else, they can be identified and returned. The cats, however, are oblivious to the chips. I can only think that a teenager who knows his/her parents can check up on them via GPS is as likely to be pissed off as reassured. It does suggest a lack of trust, in an older child, certainly. I can forsee lawsuits from teenagers and young adults demanding the right to their privacy.
I belong to the National Autistic Society (NAS for short), and they send out newsletters every so often. Sometimes they have tracking systems similar to the ones advertised within the magazine - there it does prove useful.

Autism affects people in different ways - Autistic people (and even children) range from being totally non-verbal to "normal" (ie you couldnt tell the difference in some cases). For those children who are liable to go off - autistic children (and even adults) have very little - and in some cases none - perception of danger. This could lead them into all sorts of dangers. Additionally, regardless of their verbal communication ability, people with autism DO NOT answer to their name (you could shout John all day and they would never come). So if they do get lost, it is harder to find them than a regular child.

Even if the child can (to an non-autistic sympathetic/ordinary adult) talk "normally" to an adult and could ask for directions, they may not necessarily understand them. Autistic children have greater difficulty understanding verbal communication, and work much better when an instruction is written down rather than spoken to them.

All of this could get to them being lost, and possibly being taken by bad people out there. That is where such a tracking device could be invaluable, as it would keep such a child safe.

Although I use the word "child" here it could equally apply to adults who need a reasonable amount of care too. Also, it could apply to anyone else with a severe learning difficulty too. (Also I am using child in a legal sense of the word here, this includes teenagers.)

I do think that installing them on children with the sole intent of their parents of spying on them is going a step too far. Also, there are some overly paranoid/strict parents who would also use this as a means to control their older children. Although there are some very nasty adults in the world, the child needs to learn their own independence and to a certain extent freedom - without tracking devices.

As for pets - all technology can fail - the best bet is to get your pet microchipped in the first place - that way if it does get lost, it can be returned to you. Also, particularly with dogs, a decent amount of training would be a great help too.

Also for cats - most cats weigh under 7 kg. Mine weigh 4 kg and 4.5 kg respectively and my uncle's cat weighs 5 kg. Unless you have a very large cat or an (massively) overweight one, the chances are it will be too light for such an technology.
Jane Badger said…
Juliet - I hope he has a great time. My daughter's teacher told me one reason they didn't allow mobile phones was because some children phoned home every time they had an argument, and then the parent would ring the teacher and...

Gillian - my animals are microchipped too, and dog also has a tag with our phone number on it. I completely agree with you about teenagers. Having one in the car would be bad enough, but my chances of persuading my 6' 5" lad to wear a tag? Minimal..... and as you say, a complete lack of trust. Undoubtedly my boy does get up to some things I'd rather not, though at least I hear about some of them, from him, later. I can't think of anything more likely to scupper communication than tagging them.

PTA: I can entirely see your point there, and I also think these things have a use for those with dementia (my step grandmother had it and I know just how worrying it can be, and what trouble they can inadvertently get themselves into).
Jane, I never thought of dementia, but for "vulnerable" adults (and indeed children) it could be useful.

Like all technologies it has the potential to be abused.
Juxtabook said…
I wish they did mini ones for books. I see a title regularly on the shelves for weeks when looking for other things, then I sell it. Can I find it? No. An evening of two of us unshelving everything in stock and eventually it turns up somewhere unbelievably unlikely. If I could track them electronically it would save hours, and I would know when husband had nicked them to read!
Jane Badger said…
Yes, wouldn't that be handy? There are few things more frustrating than searching for a book you KNOW you have not sold. You just don't know where it is.

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