By Sara B. Hansen
Doug Hexter calls WoofTrax’s Walk for a Dog app a triple win.
The free dog-walking app helps dog owners, their dogs and animal shelters. “Walking provides health and psychological benefits for both the owner and the dog. And by using the app you can also provide financial support to your favorite animal shelter, said Hexter, WoofTrax founder and CEO.
For the user, the app makes it easy to track how far you walk with your dog — complete with interactive maps that track the walk down to every little step off the beaten path for a sniff or potty break.
But the dog-walking app, which features advertising as well as sponsored content from dog-sitting service Rover.com, also lets the user select a shelter to support. More than 6,000 shelters have signed up with WoofTrax and the company donated $65,000 in 2014 to support them.
For its efforts, WoofTrax was named the 2015 The PeaceJam Foundation’s “One Billion Acts of Peace” Hero Award recipient for “Best Business Act.”
“Our judges recognized WoofTrax as a true agent of change in helping to solve some of the biggest global issues around the world,” said Dawn Engle, executive director of the Hero Awards and co-founder of PeaceJam.
Shelters need the help that WoofTrax can provide. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates U.S. animal shelters take in 7.6 million animals each year.
And continually raising money to help those animals can be tough.
The Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS) helped test the dog-walking app. The shelter, which takes in 12,000 animals annually, has raised several thousand dollars using it, said JoAnn Goldberger, shelter development director.
“In a world where 10,000+ steps a day matters, our Walk for a Dog app users always tell us they are amazed at how far they actually walk with their own dogs since the mileage accumulates so quickly (as does funding for BARCS). The app is a cinch for anyone who walks their dog to use and we can’t praise them enough for helping shelter animals across the nation,” she said.
Michele Burchfield, marketing and development director for National Mill Dog Rescue in Colorado Springs, said she loves the dog-walking app’s concept, but has been frustrated because the shelter doesn’t get monthly or quarterly reports from WoofTrax about donations. If the shelter got that kind of information, it could use it to market the app to its supporters and potentially get even more financial help.
“Any opportunity for us to get free money is wonderful,” Burchfield said. “We have 400,000 supporters. I’d love to get them rallied to walking for us using the app. But right now it’s kind of a leap of faith on our part. It’s hard to keep supporters motivated when we can’t easily show them the benefit.”
Karla Rikansrud, development and community relations director for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, had similar concerns, but said the shelter still is developing plans for a campaign to recruit shelter workers and volunteers to use the dog-walking app.
“I suspect you get out of it what you put into it,” she said. “But everything helps.”
Katelyn Massey of Denver has been using the app on behalf of PawsCo for the past six months when she walks Loka, her bull terrier. The pair usually walks 1 to 3 miles each day.
“I like how easy the app is to use,” Massey said. “You just have to click a button when you go for a walk. I don’t have a Fitbit, so I like how it tracks your miles and your speed. And I really like that it gives back to PawsCo.”
The dog-walking app also serves as a reminder to take regular walks. “It’s a good motivator to go on a walk,” Massey said. “You see it on your phone and you know you will be giving back to a good cause.”
People like Massey are exactly the audience Hexter and WoofTrax are trying to reach.
“Our goal is to tap into the energy of millions of people who are walking their dogs every day,” Hexter said.
The shelter donations are figured based on the number of people who choose the organization and by how often they walk. Hexter stresses all walks count -– whether it’s a trip around the block or a 10-mile hike. The last thing he wants to do is push people to over walk their dogs.
And long term, his goal is to make the app even better by working with the American Veterinary Medical Association to gather information that will allow the app to help owners determine the optimal distance to walk the dog based on breed, age and general fitness.
He’s also considering an option that would configure the app for use with a treadmill. “Last winter didn’t exactly have a lot of dog-friendly weather, so we want to address that.”
Sara B. Hansen is the editor of Dog’s Best Life. You can reach her @ firstname.lastname@example.org.