21 July 2016

DIGITAL - Pokemon Go Goes to the Dogs

The Pokemon craze has unleashed throngs of volunteers to step up and walk rescue dogs as they tap into the online antics.

And Phil Peckinpaugh, director of the Muncie Animal Shelter in Indiana, is stoked to see how the popular game has played out in terms of benefiting canines in care.

"I'm flabbergasted!" Peckinpaugh said on the CBC's As It Happens.

"I think it's just one of those things that is so simple. It's just a great fit — people love the game and they love dogs!"

The shelter posted a call out on Facebook for volunteers to take dogs along while they were on the hunt for Pokemon characters and soon found itself inundated with people wanting to help out.

Reaching an audience of nearly two million – the shelter saw people lined up to walk so-called “Pokemon dogs,” averaging about 70 would-be volunteers a day compared to the more typical one or two.

"I've never seen so many people out enjoying our city and getting involved with this animal shelter," Peckinpaugh said.

The family dog has also been subjected to more and longer walks as owners incorporate the game into their daily dog walking routine.

Social media has been flooded with memes as the tired pooches relax after their walks.

"It gives me a reason: I've got to take the dog for a walk. If I tell my wife, I am going to play Pokémon Go for a half hour, it wouldn't go over as well," William Kimbark, a 29-year-old market researcher from Long Island, told USA Today.

No doubt about it, Pokeman has proven a world-wide hit.

The smartphone-based augmented reality experience relies on GPS data to allow players to “capture” virtual creatures on their phones in real-world locations.

Police in some municipalities have warned players to use caution and common-sense when trying to “catch them all,” urging people to not play while driving, for instance.

Daily news reports show unfortunate incidents where the free-to-play game has become all-consuming and led to some odd and also unfortunate circumstances.

According to CBC, that includes “injuries, robberies, lost jobs, love connections, pleas from police, the discovery of a dead body and a $7.5-billion U.S surge in Nintendo's market value.”

Two men suffered injuries after playing Pokeman Go north of San Diego, California – both plunging several stories off a crumbling sandstone bluff.

“I think people just need to realize this is a game,” Encinitas Fire Department's battalion chief, Robbie Ford, told the Los Angeles Times.

“It's not worth your life. No game is worth your life.”

Dog owners are warned to not push their dogs past their limits and keep their walks within the dog’s capabilities.

Peckinpaugh is keenly aware of the cautionary real-life tales and concedes some distracted gamers could put themselves and dogs in harm's way.

But, he told the CBC, he says those risks are mitigated given volunteers are screened to ensure they understand their responsibility and play safely while dogs get to reap the rewards of tagging along.

“Obviously, the love of the dogs and wanting to be involved in the community is the number one priority," Peckinpaugh said. "The game is just a bonus!"
By Nadia Moharib
Nadia Moharib is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

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