In response to the gaming phenomenon known as Pokémon GO, we asked veterinarians if it was safe to play the game while your dog is by your side for a walk. The general consensus was that pet parents could be distracted while they play, causing possible harm to themselves and their dogs.
But not everyone in the pet health world thinks Pokémon GO is a bad thing. In fact, some shelters are using it for the greater good of adoptable pets. One shelter in particular, Positive Paws Rescue Transport in Albuquerque, N.M., is encouraging their volunteers to take the dogs to local parks while they search for Pokémon characters. While the pups get exercise, the walkers are encouraged to hand out information to anyone in the community who may be interested in giving the dogs a good, loving, forever home.
The bright idea came from Positive Paws' own Haley Bowers. "I have been playing Pokémon GO a lot, and my dogs have been getting nice and tired from all the walks they have been going on," she tells petMD. "We always need volunteers to walk our dogs here at the shelter, and people were going to be outside and walking anyway, so I thought it would be a good way to promote our dog walking program."
The response has been overwhelming so far. Bowers says that people from all over the place have come by to walk the dogs while they are out hunting for their favorite Pokémon GO characters. "The community is going out of their way to help shelter dogs, and our shelter dogs are loving it!"
Bowers ensures that dogs are taken safely, in a car, to and from the park where they'll go to walk and play. In addition to that, there is a process to ensure that dog and walker alike are safe and happy. They assess the volunteer's dog walking skills, get their information, and, as Bowers explains, they sign a waiver in which "they agree that [the] dogs are more important than Pokémon GO" and agree to use good judgment when it comes to the dog's overall safety.
Bowers and Positive Paws aren't the only ones who see the advantages of Pokémon GO, either. Dr. Cory Waxman of Metro Vet Center in Jersey City, N.J., thinks that the game is getting an unfair rap. "The game is encouraging people to go out for walks, naturally causing dogs to get walked more often," Waxman says. "Dog obesity is a huge problem in this country, and walking more frequently is one way to drop the pounds. It also allows dogs to expend their energy doing a healthy and stimulating activity, which has been shown to reduce anxiety and bad behavior."
Like Bowers, Waxman encourages anyone out walking a dog to use common sense, be aware of their surroundings, and put the animal's safety and health first. "The amount of walks your dog can go on depends on the dog, but you can slowly increase the walks as your dog gets used to the exercise," he says. "If your dog is already tired, injured, or seems very hot, then bring him back inside and continue the walk by yourself."
Whether or not the game remains the popular activity it is now for a long or short time, Waxman thinks that once game-playing owners notice their dogs' happier and healthier lifestyles, they'll keep on going for walks together.
Image via Positive Paws Rescue Transport