Interview: New WoofTrax App 'Walk for a Dog' Promotes Canine Exercise and Pays Shelters for Your Walk!
"Staff from Waitrose in Ely helps out dog walking at Poplar Farm Kennels." Photo Credit: Ely-News
Yeah. I know. It’s a struggle. You’ve got to find time, you’ve got to find energy, and likely, it’s not exactly your favorite thing to do. But if you ask a vet, trainer, or shelter care worker what the single biggest dog care issue is, the true importance of overcoming that struggle really becomes clear. What one factor contributes to obesity, diabetes, troubled mobility, and behavioral issues in dogs? I’m guessing you have your suspicions, so go ahead and say it with me - too little walk time.
According to trainer Victoria Swanson her “most common struggle is the excuses. Drives me nuts! I have actually told clients before that if they weren’t willing to take the time to walk, they really should have gotten a cat - yes, I can be blunt sometimes, but I almost feel like I can’t be strict enough here. Walking isn’t just important from a physical aspect for your dog, but from a mental one too!”
The trouble is, while most dog owners are otherwise very attentive, too many opt out of exercise for themselves and of course then, by default, their dogs are opted out too. It’s sad, because while I sympathize, carving out the time and summoning the will to walk your dog each day is so, so, beneficial for both dogs and their owners.
Sam, a friend of mine who rescued an Australian Cattle Dog/Blue Heeler mix about a year ago, whole-heartedly agrees. “I'm so supportive of people getting out and walking with their dogs. Not only is it beneficial in the exercise sense, but also in the sense of creating that bond that so many owners lack with their dogs." As a passionate shelter advocate, she says it saddens her the way too little exercise can sabotage a dog’s chances. “Sometimes people surrender their dogs because of ‘bad behavior’ when all they have to do is get out and walk with their dog!”
Sam herself is true to her cause. I’m constantly seeing photos of her and Hit Girl walking, running, and hiking through the woods somewhere. In fact, it’s Sam who recently turned me on to this great new app. WoofTrax's 'Walk for a Dog" app actually works to support two of her favorite causes. To encourage people to walk their dogs more often, “Walk for a Dog” helps owners track their mileage AND benefits shelters at the same time. For each mile you walk, a donation to a shelter of your choice is made!
Sam out for a walk with Hit Girl and a friend's dog, Levi.
'Walk for a Dog'
Says WoofTrax CEO Doug Hexter on their app, “The idea came from a desire to help animals and to try do it in an interesting and novel way…we realized - and it’s in the press – how lots of dogs are overweight and it’s good for dogs to exercise and of course their humans as well."
He, alongside partner Bill Helman and primary developer Mark Wheeler, started with a simple app, similar to many of the running apps out there, but with the added ability to enter information about your dogs and keep track of how far each dog had walked. It worked well, but they felt there was something missing. How could they not just track walks, but also encourage them?
“We began to think ‘Well, gee! How do we incentivize people to really want to go and walk more?...A mobile app is great, but you know, is that enough?’” They contemplated a points system as many websites and apps are doing these days, but decided they needed something more tangible. That’s when Hexter had the idea – a donation to shelters for each mile they walk!
He laughed at the ambitiousness of the undertaking as he spoke about it, “… now the last year has been spent trying to realize that - raising capital and building the technology platform - because it’s easy to donate to one national organization, but to divide all that money between thousands of animal shelters is a technology challenge!
Now, I think we have that covered.”
“I Want EVERYONE Involved”
I was lucky enough to get to chat with Mr. Hexter personally last week, and could instantly hear in the enthusiasm with which he spoke about the project just how passionately he believes in what they’re doing.
“So, do you have dogs of your own at home?” I asked.
“Yes, I do. I have a rescued fox hound and black lab. In fact, Cassie, my foxhound hound –a foxhound mix actually – is a poster dog on our new Android app’s “Walk for Cassie” feature. We put that in there so if you are currently between dogs, or you don’t currently have a dog, but you love dogs… you can walk for Cassie who sort of represents shelter dogs everywhere. Think of her as your virtual dog.”
The “Walk for Cassie” feature (for now exclusive to Android, but soon to be released for their original iPhone version of the app) speaks to real heart of WoofTrax’s cause. While their website encourages users without a dog of their own to help out a local shelter and walk a dog there instead (LOVE that idea!), they’d still rather you walk alone than not at all. Says Hexter “We expect that users will put their dog in there if they’re walking, but if they’re just walking and they don’t have a dog, or their dog’s too old to walk, but they love dogs and they want to contribute their local animal shelter, that’s okay too.”
It’s the same reason that when I asked about the 25 cent per mile figure, he explained that they don’t actually donate based solely on miles walked. “I don’t want to disincentive – pardon the way I say this – a little old lady in Florida walking her Pekingese. Her walk counts just as much as some 25 year old woman walking 3 miles a day with her Great Dane…. we have a proprietary algorithm where we weigh the number of users, the number of walks, and the miles - all the components of that count towards donations to the shelters. The 25 cent figure came out when we sent out our first round of checks in January to shelters and the total averaged 25 cents a mile. I’m not trying to make it complicated, but the reason I’m not strictly using a mileage-based formula is that I want everyone involved.”
And get involved they have.
"Handicapped dogs got to enjoy the life outside the cage too." Volunteers walk dogs for Animals Without Limits international, non-profit foundation dedicated to assisting animals in crisis situations. Photo Credit: Animals Without Limits
Despite a lack of any real advertising around the app yet (they have been waiting for the release of their Android version to begin any of that I'm told), word-of-mouth growth spurred by excited users has involvement of both users and shelters growing exponentially. According to Hexter, WoofTrax has already went from 87 actively involved shelters in January to 500 shelters this month – and since the release of “Walk for a Dog” android? Growth is accelerating even faster! In fact, their website's counter, he says, has become woefully out of date as they’ve been focusing on the new Android capabilities and will be updated soon. They’ve grown a lot since it was last touched. According to him, that 39,365 miles walked figure is actually about 20,000 miles short right now!
Beyond the statistics though, as you might imagine, the WoofTrax team has been getting loads of positive personal stories about the app. “… users are saying it makes them want to walk with their dog longer or has created a deeper bond. Some people have even said ‘I’ve been on the fence about going out to get a dog…’ and they went out and adopted one just so they could use the app! They had been thinking about it anyway, but…anyhow. It’s great… a lot of folks have no clue that [shelters are] even around and all the sudden, because they start using the app, they actually begin to think ‘Oh, there is an animal shelter in my community. Maybe I’ll get involved. If I want to get a dog, I’ll go there.’”
For her part, my friend Sam says, “There are some times where I can be lazy, like driving to the dog park instead of walking. It's only like as mile and half away, but it can be so easy to just hop in the car. The incentive of knowing that I could have possibly contributed to a chew toy that this breed needs to have is a great motivator!”
Sam out on a pack walk at the dog park. Pictured her with a friend's dog, Cinnamon.
Okay. This is all really, really awesome! But as a cat lady, I had to ask him - “What about cats?”
“Cats are covered in the sense that we donate to your local animal shelter. If you’re a Pit Bull rescue, no, you’re probably not dealing with cats, but if you are donating to a shelter, they have cats too and money is not segregated to dogs. Every mile you walk your dog, you are helping dogs, cats and any other animals in that shelters. You can even use the app to walk your cat if you want! I’m a cat lover too.” Hexter assured me.
All in all, the future for WoofTrax and their “Walk for a Dog” app is looking really bright. Plans are in the works to expand the app for use in Canada next, and then throughout Europe and South America, and also to add new fund-matching (or like) functionality so interested users can donate money as well as time to the cause.
“Right now, animal shelters have to beg and plead for donations from corporation and from individuals. And when those checks are written out, it's with the kindness of their hearts, but there’s no real great feedback for the donors beyond the goodwill… Our goal is to create a new breed, if you will, of fundraising. If we can do that, we hope to be able to save animals, to increase awareness of shelters and adoptions to help fight the puppy mill problem, and to build a closer relationship between people and their shelters.
We still have one paw tied behind our back.”
Want to Help?
Here’s how it works: download the app for your iPhone or Android. Enter a little info about your dog (or dogs) OR if you don’t have a dog of your own, but you have Android and still want to help, choose their “Walk for Cassie” option.
Once you’re set up, slap a leash on Fido, press “start,” and hit the road. For every mile you walk together, a donation will be made to your selected shelter (or to a random shelter if you're not sure which to choose.) Hexter stresses that there's no reason you need to wait to find a shelter to use "Walk for a Dog." They’ll just pick a random shelter in need for you and if you want, you can pick a specific shelter later once you’ve learned more about those around you. The important thing is to get walking.
After your walks, shout it loud and proud! Sharing with your friends online is another great, simple way to make a larger impact, get more people using "Walk for a Dog", and get more donations going out to shelters in need.
Looking for a Local Shelter?
Please take advantage of the great online resources the Humane Society has a listed here!
Need Some Help Getting your Dog to Walk Nicely?
Thinking of Adopting?
Victoria Swanson has tips on adult dog adoption and choosing the best dog for you.
Want to Keep Updated on WoofTrax’s “Walk for a Dog” app?