Joan Merriam: Gadgets, gizmos, and good ideas |

Joan Merriam: Gadgets, gizmos, and good ideas

I want to express my deepest appreciation to the many members of our wonderful community who wrote and called with your condolences at the loss of my dear Casey. Your kindness means more to me than words can ever say.

Just as there are hundreds of breeds of dogs (though the AKC only recognizes 184 breeds, the World Canine Organization tallies almost 340), there are hundreds — more likely, thousands — of innovative products out there designed to make life easier, better, or more fun for you and your dog.

I can’t lay claim to know about all of these, but I tend to bump into quite a few as I’m making the rounds of pet shops and the Internet.

This month, I thought I’d reach into my grab-bag and pull out a few that you might find helpful or enjoyable or even silly.

Are you into fitness, or just trying to make sure you get enough exercise to keep you healthy?

If so, you probably know about those pint-sized devices that clip to your waistband or belt clip that monitor your steps throughout the day. One of the most popular is the FitBit; they’ve now come out with a similar device for your dog.

It’s called the Whistle Activity Monitor, and it attaches to your dog’s collar to track his daily activities. It can also give you long-term data to compare your dog’s activity level over time. The company will be launching the Whistle GPS late this year.

Speaking of GPS, the field of collar-mounted GPS devices to help track your dog or find him if he gets lost is still somewhat limited, but is growing.

One helpful feature of some collars is their ability to set up boundaries for your dog, and alert you if he moves beyond them (like into the neighbor’s bed of prized peonies!).

Most of these gadgets send the information to your computer or mobile device over a provider network like AT&T or Verizon — and that, of course, is their downside. If your dog gets lost in an area with no service, the collar is useless. Keep in mind that you’ll probably have to pay a monthly fee in addition to the up-front cost of the device itself.

Today, there are few products more helpful in reuniting a lost dog with her owner than the microchip. The chip itself is about the size of a grain of rice, and is painlessly injected under the skin between the dog’s shoulder blades.

Some people mistakenly think that criminals could have access to their personal information by scanning the chip, but in fact the only thing on the chip is an ID number, which the vet or shelter calls into the pet recovery service, and which the service uses to contact you.

Costs for microchipping have come down considerably in recent years. The average cost to have your pet microchipped ranges from $40-50, although some shelters and animal nonprofits offer reduced fees. There is no charge to activate the chip, which you do by simply calling the recovery center and providing your contact information.

Our rural area has undeniable beauty, but relatively few streetlights. This can be a problem for people who like to take nighttime or early-morning walks with their dogs, but hate the hassle of carrying a bulky flashlight.

One solution — other than using the flashlight on your iPhone, which may be lighter but is still just as much of a pain as a flashlight — is what’s called a dog light: a special collar with an adjustable, battery-powered LED light attached. I used one of these with Casey in our summertime pre-dawn walks, and it’s surprisingly effective.

Last year’s Consumer Electronics Show featured a compact handy-cam from Sony that was actually mounted on a dog. While the camera was originally designed for humans, the optional harness attaches to your pooch’s back and lets you have a dog’s eye-view of his canine exploits.

GoPro Fetch also makes a dog harness/camera that’s compatible with all GoPro cameras.

And what about a gadget that picks up and stores your pup’s — uhhh — ”waste”? Enter the Auggiedog automatic pooper scooper.

This battery-powered scooper actually picks up your dog’s poop, stores it in a small canister inside the unit, then releases it into a toilet or waste container at the push of a button — all without you having to pick up anything by hand or carry around that always-fashionable used poop bag.

Finally, there’s the PetCube, which allows you to watch, talk and listen to, and even play with your pet while you’re away from home. The system, which features a speaker, camera, and playtime laser pointer that your dog can chase, connects through your home’s Wi-Fi system to your smartphone.

These are just a few of the hundreds of gizmos and gadgets that savvy marketers have come up with to indulge our dogs and our obsession with them. For more ideas, just do an Internet search for terms like “gadgets for dogs.” Be prepared to be wowed!

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County, surrounded by the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at And if you’re looking for a Golden, check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.

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