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It’s a common dilemma for anyone who likes to complete an errand or two while out walking their dog. Do you tie your dog up outside the store while you run in for a head of lettuce and some tomatoes?
With stories in the news about dogs being stolen, I’ve increasingly felt uncomfortable about leaving my black Lab Cooper unattended, even for a short time. Also, Cooper has separation anxiety so he whines and cries the whole time I’m out of sight. So, I was thrilled to see a lockable kennel outside my local QFC grocery store in Seattle recently.
The high-tech dog houses are the ingenious invention of a New York City-based startup called DogSpot, and it has spread rapidly since June, when there were just a handful of locations in Seattle. The boxes are now available at locations in 20 states across the country, with more coming. The company plans to have a network in “every walkable city.”
In Seattle, the company is starting with grocery stores but plans to expand to other places such as bars and restaurants where pets aren’t welcome inside.
The kennels are still a novelty, and the company uses light-hearted messages printed on the dog houses to reassure pet parents and passersby.
“Yes, it has A/C and air holes,” reads the message on the side of a kennel. “No, they don’t use it as a bathroom. Yes it locks. No they don’t freak out. Yes, we’re serious.”
This is how it works
First, you have to download the DogSpot app, which shows a map of all the nearby locations of available kennels. I recommend you do this at home, because I waited until I got to the store and then it took about 15 minutes to set up as I relied on the weak store WiFi. You have to provide a name, email address and phone number and credit card information.
Once you have the app you can reserve a house up to 15 minutes ahead of time and unlock it upon arrival. No one was using it or waiting for it on the day I tried it.
The rental rate is 30 cents per minute ($6 for 20 minutes), but QFC is offering shoppers 30 minutes free for now with a code you enter on the app. At the normal rate, you would probably only want to use the kennels for quick shopping trips.
The houses, which are big enough to fit a Great Dane, give pet parents the chance to check in on their dogs throughout the stay via a “puppy cam” that they can access with the mobile app. Pet parents can also play music or talk to their dog remotely via the app.
To begin, I tapped a prompt and the door opened. Cooper, who has never been kenneled, at first refused to go in. I climbed in with him to trick him, then got out and closed the door. He looked confused but not upset.
I picked up the few items I needed, and during that time I did not receive any alerts, so I assumed Cooper was OK. I forgot to check on him with the puppy cam in the app. When I returned he was laying down and appeared relaxed.
I tapped the prompt to open the door and the app got hung up with a message that said “just a moment,” perhaps because of the slow WiFi. After about three minutes of waiting, I called the phone number on the kennel for help. Someone answered promptly, and after I gave her my name, she knew where I was and opened the door for me. She also said she would credit me with the three minutes I was waiting.
So, while it didn’t work flawlessly, at least the customer service was prompt and I didn’t have to wait long.
Cooper didn’t get the pets and attention from passersby he usually gets when I leave him alone, but I felt a lot better knowing there was no chance of him being nabbed.
Other features include:
- Heated floors in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, plus a real-time temperature monitor.
- UVC lights, which sanitize the house in between uses.
- Tinted windows for privacy.
- An emergency release system that can be activated by phone in the event anything goes wrong with the app.
- A monitoring team that can notify a pet parent if their pup appears to be in distress.
- The dog houses are cleaned by hand each day, according to the company.
QFC President Suzy Monford said the grocery chain sees the DogSpot partnership as another way to bring technology and convenience to shoppers, according to an article on the tech website Geekwire.
At the store I visited, there was a big sign next to the kennel warning people they can be fined $500 for trying to pass a pet off as a service dog in the store. I see people doing this all the time, so I suspect deterring those folks is another reason QFC is offering the kennels.