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A GPS. For my dog?

After a terrifying early morning scare, columnist Steve Lange invests in a dog tracking device.

Oddchester - Steve Lange column sig
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Four days ago, I was awakened — at 6:45 a.m. — by wife Lindy.

“Awakened,” here, is not a strong enough word. I mean, that could imply she was tousling my hair and whispering, “Don’t you have an early meeting this morning, Sweetie?”

Instead, I was awakened to the following: Lindy’s face inches from mine. Screaming “FINCH IS GONE I THINK SHE GOT OUT THROUGH THE BACK FENCE GET UP WE HAVE TO FIND HER NOW!”

Finch is our 13-pound rescue dog. Lindy is not prone to dramatic outbursts.

I’ve never gotten out of bed quicker.


Within seconds, I was running through our backyard, yelling “Finch!” A block over, I heard Lindy yelling “Finch!”

This was before 7 a.m. The sun had not yet risen.

I’m sure pictures of us with snarky captions were being instantly uploaded to the Meadow Park Nextdoor app. I’m sure video of us was immediately being posted on the Spotted in Rochester Facebook page.

After a few minutes, daughter Emma called my cell. “I found Finch!” she said.

Scout, left, and Finch.
Steve Lange

“Stay where you are and drop me a pin to your location! Keep visuals on the subject and remain in constant phone contact with base!” I screamed. “And I’m base!”

“Finch has been in the house the whole time,” Emma said. “She got shut in the bathroom.”

I let Lindy yell a few more times before I called her. I wanted to grill her about waking me up by yelling “FINCH IS GONE!” when, in fact, the dog was safely in our home. But I exercised restraint.

Later that morning, I bought something called a Whistle Switch, basically a GPS collar for Finch.


It was a lot of money — $200 for the device and $100 for the yearly plan.

But it was also two hours after “FINCH IS GONE!”, and my pupils and arteries were still dilated from adrenal fear. Worm-seized veins still pulsed over my temples.

It’s hard to put a price on that not happening again.

For years, daughter Emma, now 15, had desperately wanted another dog, a companion for our 13-year-old Chocolate Lab, Scout. She wanted a lap dog. The kind of dog I swore I’d never get.

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Two years ago, Emma, volunteering at Paws&Claws, met Finch. Called us to come see.

When we got there, Emma was holding Finch — a 13-pound pit bull, Doberman, chihuahua, poodle mix. Finch had been found on the side of the road and no one claimed her. She was glued to Emma.

We knew Finch was meant to be with us.

It was a lot of work, at first.


Now, two years later, Finch and Scout sleep on the couch together. Chase rabbits in the backyard together. Drink their water at the same time from the same bowl.

Our backyard is surrounded by a metal fence with vertical slats. Finch can fit through the slats. Scout, alas, cannot.

We bought a special harness, with a black plastic rod attached, for Finch. That rod sticks out perpendicular to Finch, like tiny wings that are wider than the metal fence slats. She looks like a chihuahua glider.

But we don’t always put her harness on. She’s only gone through the fence once, while chasing a rabbit. That one escape, apparently, weighs on Lindy.

So we bought the Whistle Switch. The collar “alerts when your pet leaves a designated safe place.” It “pinpoints your pet’s location with Google Maps.”

More importantly, the device tracks Finch’s activity level! Monitors how many minutes per day she spends scratching! Quantifies her daily licking!

I get push notifications when she reaches her day’s exercise goal or drinks more than her average amount of water!

ME [calling Lindy at work]: Did you see my repeated texts about Finch reaching her daily kcal goal? And it’s only 2 p.m.!

LINDY: What’s kcal?

ME: I don’t know! But she's already reached it!

I have, over these past four days, spent an inordinate amount of time analyzing Finch’s health habits. I have, over the past decade, checked Skyward less frequently, and with less enthusiasm. That’s the app that tracks your child’s school grades.

My kids, obviously, don’t want me tracking their every movement.

Finch, I’m sure, does. If only — after blindly following that rabbit through that fence — so she can come back home, and get her recommended rest by napping on my lap as I work. Then work towards her exercise target by running in circles when Emma gets home from school. Then, alongside Scout, and from the same bowl, drink her daily water goal.

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.

Opinion by Steve Lange
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