How Apps Are Changing Pet Ownership in DC

Washington's techie pet products are thriving.
Photo via iStock.

When Matthew Burgoyne and Ryan Glanzer brought home their corgi puppy, Gus, last November, their work schedules allowed them to take turns letting the dog out during the day. But then Burgoyne landed a fellowship with unpredictable hours. The couple, in their early thirties, did the obvious—they looked for an app to solve the problem.

They found Barkly, which was started in DC last year by three friends. Unlike traditional walking services, Barkly lets users order walks on demand in addition to prescheduling them. Burgoyne and Glanzer can get Gus covered with as little as an hour’s notice. When the walk is over, the app sends them a map of the route Gus took around their Logan Circle neighborhood along with Tweet-style notes about his behavior.

here's looking at you kid. #suave #wink #igotgame #butreallywhatsinmyeye ?:@asicophoto

A photo posted by Gus (@dcgus) on

Nationally, the pet-tech industry has been slow to grow. Experts say the lag is due in part to the fact that most major pet companies still heavily target baby boomers. Plus, the top tech developers don’t tend to gravitate toward the pet business. Where there’s progress to be made, though, Washington has proved to be fertile ground.

On average, millennials get animal companions by age 21, while boomers waited until 29. They’re also “far more likely to feel that getting a pet is part of preparing to have a family, like training wheels for a kid,” says Nathan Richter of the Arlington consultancy Wakefield Research. “In that [mindset], the money you are willing to spend, how much you research products—it’s all far different.”

Given that Washington added more twenty- and thirtysomethings to its population between 2010 and 2012 than anywhere else in the country, it has also welcomed a hefty share of this new breed of pet owner: doting but busy, with income to spare, and much more interested in the efficiency of arranging pet care via phone than in dealing with an actual person. The result? A thriving micro-economy of techie services. It’s now possible to have your dog walked, find him a play date, and put out a doggie “Amber alert” if he goes missing, all from your smartphone.

Not every new business is likely to last. “Dog-walking apps, especially—there are a lot of them out there. There is going to be a saturation point,” says Leslie May, founder of Pawsible Marketing, which specializes in marketing pet products.

Since its 2015 launch, Barkly—the app Gus’s dads use—has expanded into Baltimore and Philadelphia, and its founders say revenue and the number of walkers have tripled. Like Uber drivers, dog walkers pocket 80 percent of their fees ($16 for prescheduled walks, $22 for last-minute). SpotSpot, an app for tracking lost pets, was also founded in DC last year. Users create a profile for their pet, and if the animal goes missing, the app alerts other users based on their proximity to the pet’s last known location.

Nutrapooch in Sterling—sort of like Blue Apron for dogs—delivers all-natural, raw-diet pet meals to its subscribers’ doors. “I order everything online, and 9 times out of 10 I don’t even see them deliver,” says 31-year-old Malorie Malé, who has three dogs.

The Austin, Texas, start-up BarkHappy launched here in June. The app displays a Google Map of nearby restaurants and hotels that allow pets, and it also has a matchmaking function that lets you scroll through profiles of nearby dogs and invite them to play with yours. Its CEO says Washington’s user base—increasing by an average of 30 percent a week—is among its fastest-growing.

Similarly, Rover.com—one of the few big success stories in the pet-tech world—counts Washington among its most important areas. The company, which connects owners with user-rated sitters, boarders, and walkers—started in Seattle in 2012. It now has nearly 60,000 members in the Washington area and says demand for its walkers is growing faster here than anywhere else in the US.

As for Gus, there’s another reason his owners often turn to their phones—it’s how they manage his Instagram account. With more than 4,000 followers, the corgi is verging on local-celebrity status. If you recognize him out and about, there’s a good chance he’ll be with Alyssa, his preferred Barkly walker.

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