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New radio location system can help Lassie come home

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By Stephen Knapp

At some point, even the most inert household pet may suddenly heed the call of the wild and adventure into the forest primeval.

In the past, frantic masters have had few options beyond driving aimlessly around hill and dale hanging fliers and yelling themselves hoarse. Now, thanks to some proven technology and Evergreen Animal Protective League volunteer Isobel McQuiston, there’s a far more effective — and far less exhausting — way to bring wandering homebodies in from the cold.

“It’s basically a collar with a small radio transmitter on it,” McQuiston explains. “If your dog or cat runs off or gets lost, we can just dial their frequency into the receiver, and it will lead us right to it.”

That McQuiston is spearheading the new tracking system is only natural. As EAPL’s principal telephone contact, she spends a lot of time fielding calls from anxious pet owners from Conifer to Clear Creek County whose dogs or cats have flown the coop. While the league can usually assemble a sizable party of willing searchers, basic hunt-and-holler tactics are difficult, time-consuming and, too often, unsuccessful.

“Lost dogs are very common up here,” McQuiston says. “We’ll get two or three calls a day. Foster dogs, especially, tend to run away a lot, and finding a pet in the mountains can be like finding a needle in a haystack.”

In fact, whether it’s a runaway Abyssinian in Aspen Park or a delinquent Ibizan in Idaho Springs, EAPL manages to repatriate about 70 percent of found animals with their owners. The real trick, of course, is finding the animal in the first place.

“The I.D. tag system we use is great for getting a dog back home, but all the I.D. in the world won’t help if it doesn’t get found. This radio system gives us another tool to help pet owners recover their lost animals,” McQuiston says.

In searching for a better dogcatcher, McQuiston first studied a popular GPS system that relies on cell phone technology to determine an animal’s location, but found it impractical given the mountain area’s dismal cell phone reception and the device’s exorbitant price tag. Then, a friend hooked her up with Tracker Radio Systems in Meridian, Idaho.

Tracker’s uncomplicated locating system consists of a trim, hand-held radio receiver capable of storing and tracking 1,000 separate frequencies. Under most circumstances, the device can zero in on any dog or cat wearing a compatible transmitting collar within 3 miles.

“We’re the first animal welfare organization in North and South America using this system,” McQuiston says. “The company really wants to help us succeed with it so other groups will start using it up. The receiver normally costs $7,500, but we only paid $495 for it, and individual pet owners can buy a collar for only $145. Once they have a collar, we’ll program their specific frequency into the receiver.

“It’s going to make us much more efficient.”

Though the Tracker radio-location system could dramatically reduce the need for search parties, its powerful receiver still requires a hand to hold it, and McQuiston’s looking for a few mountain-area residents who don’t mind a little fresh air and sunshine.

“The whole success or failure of this idea depends on putting together a competent tracking team,” she says. “We’re hoping to get some vol

To learn more about the Evergreen Animal Protective League, visit www.eapl.com or call 303-674-6442. To learn more about Tracker Radio Systems pet tracking products, visit www.trackerradio.com or call 208-514-4719.

Contact staff writer Stephen Knapp at stephen@evergreenco.com or 720-261-1665.