If you have a pet, chances are that they’d have already given you the slip and left the confines of the house more than once. And once that happens, it can get incredibly difficult to track their whereabouts, especially pets that don’t respond to their name being called out, i.e., cats.

This happens to be a problem I have had to be contend with on an alarmingly regular basis. Pet parent to a three-year-old cat, I have often found myself combing every inch of my apartment complex in search of the furry fiend, only to find him resting comfortably in a stranger’s balcony or sunbathing on the roof. But sometimes it does end up being a very harrowing experience, case in point being a couple of instances when my cat had to be rescued by the fire brigade. Yes, the fire brigade. 

After a few weeks in the house that I had just moved into, my cat had learned how to open the windows, and somehow made his way to the balcony of an abandoned flat several floors above — twice. I am forever indebted to the men from the fire brigade who offered to dangle from the roof of a 12-storey building using nothing but a harness and a climbing rope to rescue my cat.

Needless to say, I was petrified, and decided to swap the locks on the windows. But surely, there had to be a better solution than just hoping and praying that my cat doesn’t learn to open these new locks. And that’s where technology came to the rescue.

For years, a growing number of pet owners have been using GPS trackers with a mobile data connection to track their runaway pets in real time. And that’s what I considered at first. But there is one big problem — good options are either not available in India, or just too bulky for a cat. GPS, as a technology, is power hungry and even for a few days’ worth of tracking, you’d need a sizeable battery. This makes it, for the most part, unfeasible for cats.

With GPS out of the question, I was looking at alternative technologies. The second-best option is Bluetooth, but then the pet would have to be in Bluetooth range to be tracked — good for keys, remote controls, or wallets, but not very useful for a pet. Soon enough, I started looking at Tile. To the uninitiated, Tile is a tracker that uses Bluetooth, and easily fits on a keyring. While Tile has been around for almost a decade now, its adoption has never really picked up in And now the likes of Samsung and Apple have jumped into the fray.

Even though Apple’s AirTag offers vastly similar functionality and features as its competitors, it has got one thing that won me over. Apple’s AirTags are part of, roughly, a billion devices in the company’s ‘Find My’ network. This means that if your pet meanders out of range of the AirTag’s Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) range, it can still be found if they are in proximity of any of the one billion devices. Also, users can scan the AirTag to retrieve useful information, like your phone number to contact you.

Now that I decided on the AirTag, it was time to set up and attach it to my cat’s collar. But the AirTag is not made to be a tracker for pets, so it doesn’t really have any attachments that you can use to secure it to a collar. However, third party accessory manufacturers have already come up with some options, and I settled for this AirTag holder by Spigen. It was time to put the AirTag to the test. Like with all Apple products, it was effortless to set-up and get going with. You can access the location of your pet on the Find My app at all times. It will even tell you when the location was last updated. If you have an iPhone 11 or later version, you have the option of ‘Precision Finding’ given you are in Bluetooth range.

I tried it with an iPhone 13 and was surprised with just how accurate the directions and distance to my pet were. And if you can still not find them, you can use the app to play a ringing sound on the AirTag (provided you are in range). You can also configure the AirTag to alert you if it leaves a pre-set region. Still, if your pet does manage to give you the slip, you can enable Lost mode to make it easier for nearby Apple devices to find it.

It has been a few months since I have been using the AirTag, and I can safely say that my cat seems very comfortable lugging the featherlight tracker (11g) around. Importantly, with splash, dust and water resistance, I don’t have to worry too much about the tracker getting damaged. The sturdy holder that I am using also helps.

The one-year battery life of the easily replaceable CR2032 cell adds to the effortlessness of using an AirTag. It is not all smooth sailing, though. While the directions work well indoors, walls and large objects do pose a challenge sometimes. Still, it isn’t something that won’t be fixed when you walk around the obstacle to try and locate your pet. A bigger concern is the small range. Distances more than even 15-20 metres can prevent the AirTag’s tracking from working. This becomes an even bigger problem, if your pet is shy and avoids human interaction while on their own. India’s rather tiny share of iPhone users, when compared to some other parts of the world, also means that your pet might just end up in a location with very few or no Apple devices nearby.

Even with its shortcomings, the Apple AirTag comes across as possibly the best tracking solution for small pets in India right now. It is light, easy to use and offers solid features. It makes it very easy to track your pets when they inevitably find a hidden cozy spot for themselves. The AirTag has invariably led me to some of my cat’s favourite hiding spots in the house, much to his dismay. I cannot comment on real-world utility of the AirTag when your pet does escape the house as my cat just hasn’t run away after being introduced to the AirTag. Not sure about anyone else, but I am taking that to be a sign.