How often do you take your dog for a walk? Once a day? Twice a day? If you’re like me, you take your pooch around the block at least a handful of times every single Sunday through Saturday, rain or shine. Now imagine if your normal, everyday routine helped contribute to the well-being of other deserving animals? This is the idea behind WoofTrax’s Walk for a Dog, an interactive app that donates increasing amounts of money to local animal shelters the more users take their pets for walks.
The idea for tracking dog walks and using that common ritual for social good first occurred to Doug Hexter when he was working at a software development firm about three years ago. As a dog owner himself, Hexter knew the tremendous value of a simple walk and wanted to incorporate that individual benefit into a larger social cause. So he got to work on the Walk for a Dog app, and then visited a Baltimore animal shelter in fall of 2013 to ask if the organization would promote his new program on its Facebook page. Thankfully, the staff was more than willing to help spread the word.
“Partnerships and downloads started off slowly at first, but then quickly gained momentum,” Hexter remembers. “We mailed checks to 87 animal organizations in January 2014, then 600 in June of 2014, and 4,500 in December of 2014.” Now, Hexter works full-time on making sure WoofTrax has enough users and funding to make a difference in the lives of shelter animals.
Today, WoofTrax has established nearly 7,000 partnerships with animal welfare organizations across the country. “The shelters come to us now,” Hexter says. This means also partnering with major causes, such as regional chapters of the American Cancer Society Bark For Life campaign (Eastern Region, Rochester NY) and the Susan G. Komen Paws for the Cure (Puget Sound), both of which users can support on the Walk for a Dog app.
As far as the shelters themselves, though, the app offers a variety of local options to choose from. “People feel more connected to an organization where they adopted their pet,” says Hexter, who believes that the app should also work toward spreading awareness and developing community. To that end, one Texas user actually launched a Walk for a Dog Facebook group dedicated to sharing the app experience and encouraging others to do the same. Currently, the group has exceeded 100 members, who are all helping to bring more attention to Walk for a Dog.
So how does WoofTrax work? It’s incredibly simple. Once you download the free app, you’ll automatically be paired with a local organization. (For me, it was the SPCA of Westchester.) You can also select which organization you’re affiliated with through a click of a button, which allows you to search by state or keyword. Once you’ve made your selection, you’ll be instructed to create a profile for your dog, including name, breed, and a photo. Then, just start walking. The app times your walk and also shows how much distance you’ve covered. So in addition to keeping quick tabs for donation purposes, users can get a sense of how much exercise they’re getting and sharing with their pets.
As soon as you’re done walking, you can share the experience on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Or just save it to your account and feel good vibes for having done something nice for yourself, your pup, and a local shelter.
After making Walk for a Dog part of your routine, you can start to see your hard work pay off by clicking on the Impact tab. I was able to see that 803 walks over the course of 1,035 miles have been logged on behalf of the SPCA of Westchester. Seeing these stats made me happy to know I wasn’t the only one walking for Westchester, and also gave me a little push to commit myself to logging at least two walks a day, while telling my husband and dog-loving friends and family to do the same.
Two of the great things about the app are that people of all ages and abilities can use it and all walks count. As long as the walk is at least one-tenth of a mile, WoofTrax will count it toward a walk for your shelter of choice. That said, the app is designed to automatically turn off if your phone logs a speed of greater than 30 mph, which can happen if you take your dog for a hike and then get in the car to drive home, forgetting to “stop” the walk. Just one of the super-smart features of the service.
What determines the exact number of funds contributed by WoofTrax is the number of people walking their dogs for that particular local organization. The advertising and sponsorship pool is divided up once or twice a year among the animal welfare partners using numbers based upon walks taken. So there’s a crowdfunding element involved.
In fact, growth for the app has largely been organic, as walkers are inspiring others. By now, almost 3.5 million walking events have been logged on the app since it launched in two years ago. And WoofTrax donated an impressive $65,000 to deserving organizations in its first full year in business, with money coming from a variety of sponsors, advertisers, and investors. You can also choose to make a gift and donate your own money, which is tax deductible.
Looking ahead, Hexter says that he hopes the app will raise $250,000 in 2016. He also would like to add new features provided through an ad service, including incentive rewards for users like coupons and free MP3 downloads as a thank you gift for walking. There are also plans to bring WoofTrax to Canada next fall, with international expansion in the more distant future.
But perhaps the best part about WoofTrax is the fact that there’s no good reason not to go for a walk. You don’t even need a dog. For those without four-legged walking buddy, there’s the option of taking Hexter’s own rescue mutt, Cassie, for a stroll. She serves as the virtual companion to anyone who wants to walk but doesn’t have access to a pet.
“We rescued her from a shelter in Danville, Pennsylvania,” Hexter explains. “She was a bit of a sad story.” Cassie had been brought to the shelter along with a Golden Retriever she had been living with; their family couldn’t keep them any longer and hoped they would be adopted together. Well, the Golden found a new home fairly quickly, but Cassie was at the shelter for 10 months before Hexter met her.
“She was the only dog not barking or seeking attention,” he remembers when he first saw the foxhound mix. “She’s a really sweet dog.”
Right now, every walk that’s logged on the Walk for a Dog app is being registered as an act of peace as part of WoofTrax’s partnership with The PeaceJam Foundation. The goal is to reach one million by the end of this calendar year, and one billion by 2019. Those staggering numbers should be more than enough motivation to get you out the door with leash in hand. And Fido is probably more than willing to join.
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About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Birchbox and WhattoExpect.com. A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by).