YOU COULDN’T make it up. Seemingly not content that millions of humans own mobile phones, mobile networks and manufacturers have begun to sniff out a fresh market. For about £100, the first mobile phone device designed for dogs will provide a new way for owners to communicate with lost or lonely pets.
The PetsCell uses the same technology as conventional mobile phones but is shaped like a bone and attached to the dog’s collar. Whenever an owner needs to speak to their dog they can dial the number and the phone connects automatically after the first ring. The dog is able to hear the owner through the speaker on the phone and can bark in response.
PetsMobility, the company launching the product, plans to put it on sale in America by August and in Britain by December.
A variant of the phone, with a video camera, will allow owners to see if their dog is misbehaving while they are out. If necessary, they will then be able to give it simple instructions such as "sit" or "drop it".
Although at first glance the PetsCell seems like the ultimate in designer trash for people with more money than sense, it may have some very real practical and welfare-related uses. Cameron Robb, inventor of the PetsCell and director of PetsMobility, which is based in Scottsdale, Arizona, said the phone could also be used to find lost dogs.
The device, measuring 5in by 3in, has two prominent buttons — one green and one red — that dial pre-programmed numbers. Anyone who finds the stray dog can press one of the buttons and be connected to the owner’s phone number to explain where the dog is.
Robb, 35, originally from Vancouver, has been working on his PetsCell innovation for the past year. The idea came to him when he overheard a business associate talking to his dog 3,000 miles away on the phone. He missed his pet and just wanted to hear it bark.
Robb recalls being met with laughter whenever he suggested the idea to anybody, whether it was friends or business colleagues he was asking to fund the project.
"You get the same laughter time and time again. Then people realise it’s not such a bad idea and there’s actually a need for it," said Robb.
So far he has only finished the prototype, but said he was due to sign a multi-million-pound deal in the next week or so for mass production of the gadget in Canada and America. He added that he had been receiving inquiries from all over the world, including Britain.
"One inquiry from the UK was from a hunting group which uses terriers," he said. "They wanted the device so they could put in the terriers and not only hear them as they dig the burrows for foxes, but can also see what they are doing."
There has also been interest from police forces and search-and-rescue teams wanting to put the devices on the collars of dogs to transmit sound and pictures to their handlers.
Phil Buckley, spokesman for the Kennel Club and owner of two terriers, disagrees with her forecast, saying mobile phones for dogs would be a fad that worked only in America, where the trend for transforming dogs into convenient "accessories" was more advanced.
"UK dog owners treat dogs differently," said Mr Buckley. "In the US they do things like declawing and debarking pet dogs. Here people don’t do these things."
The PetsCell is not the first unusual gadget for dogs. Last year Takara, a Japanese toy company, invented the Bow-Lingual device which translates dog barks into responses such as "on guard" and "I am happy", which are then played on a speaker mounted on the collar. A similar device for cats is called the Meowlingual.