If you find an injured bird in your back yard, do you know who to call? The Boulder, Colo., group Animal Watch has developed a free iPhone and iPad application and a website called AnimalHelpNow designed to assist with such an emergency. The app and site only work for locations in Colorado, but its developers hope to expand the program nationally.
"It was clear that someone using the app was likely to be in a stressful and perhaps dangerous situation for either themselves or the animal," says volunteer programmer Frank Vernon. "With that in mind we focused on making the app as simple and straightforward as possible."
Launch AnimalHelpNow and first it figures out where you are, using the device's GPS, or your computer's IP address on the website. Then there are options depending on the situation you're in.
"The app asks a series of simple questions, like whether it's a wild or domestic animal, whether you can transport the animal," Vernon says. "Based on the user's answers, the user's location and the time of day, we filter the possibilities to display the best choices high on the list."
Vernon says for a domestic animal at night or on the weekend, the closest emergency veterinarian pops up. For a wild animal, it could be a local person or group who rehabilitates wildlife, a vet who treats wild animals or a wildlife agency.
The app and website also have links to report animal abuse or neglect and lost or found pets.
"The app is designed to work even when you don't have cell or Internet access," says Dave Crawford, executive director of Animal Watch. "So whether you're driving through a remote area on the eastern [Colorado] plains, hiking a trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, or simply passing through a dead zone on your way to work, you'll still be able to immediately find the help you need."
For now, information is limited to Colorado, but that could change soon. "We hope to expand it across the country," Crawford says. "Technologically, that's fairly easy. The data will be the challenging part."
The key to gathering information about wildlife rehabilitators, agencies and emergency vets in other parts of the country could be allowing anyone to type in new information.
"There currently is no way for a user to submit local data, other than through the feedback page," Crawford says. But Animal Watch hopes to add that feature to the app and the website in a future update.