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Reuniting loved ones

7 August 2021
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Tracy Austin lived as a ‘Jane’ for two days. She had just been named in the initial road cycling squad to try out for the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games road cycling team. That same day, she was knocked off her bicycle by a car that went through a stop sign.
“I had no identification on me – it was a Jane Doe story. I was in a coma for two days, and this was before cellphones, so it was a case of the boyfriend thought I was at the flat, the flatmates thought I was at my parents,” she says.
It was this life-changing experience that motivated Tracy to create Mimark, some 20 years later. The watch provides virtual identification for individuals in case of emergency.
Its five-year development began in 2012 and became the stepping stone for her app Doggone, which was launched direct to the public this year.
Doggone has the very happy job of reuniting wandering dogs (and other pets) with their owners through a remarkably simple system. In essence, if your dog decides to go on an adventure, the person that happens upon them can text the Doggone number on the tag and receive back, within seconds, not only the phone number of the owner, but any pertinent health or behavioural information about the pet. The app is able to be updated as you go, so if you hand the leash over to someone else for the day, you can swap in their details.
The first release was with councils to provide the Doggone smart tag as the official dog registration tag, but last year’s nationwide Covid-19 lockdown offered an opportunity for Tracy to have a rethink.
“We had to be mindful so many people’s circumstances had changed – what may have been affordable before, was no longer so affordable. And I really wanted to make Doggone available to everyone. We had so many people say they wanted it but their council wasn’t offering it yet,” Tracy says.
Knowing some folk can become bamboozled by technology, Tracy made a conscious decision to choose something familiar rather than fancy. She wanted tech that was well embedded in mainstream use, even though the “latest” technology was looking at her seductively. Tracy combined Bluetooth and text for the Doggone tags.
“Most people understand that it [Bluetooth] connects like an invisible extension cord. But even more so with a text service – my sons’ 80-year-old grandmother knows how to do that.”

AN EARLY LESSON

When Tracy was in her late twenties and working as a personal assistant at a law firm, a chance conversation with a colleague changed her view on age. “She was someone I really looked up to. An amazing lady with so much empathy for her clients. We were having a heart-to-heart one day and I was astonished to learn she had got her law degree at age 48, after her children went to varsity.
“Three months after that I started on a marketing degree and got a scholarship to study full-time – she was the impetus for me to do something.”
Not long after graduating, Tracy was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and cervical cancer.

DODGING A BULLET

Tracy had cervical cancer treatment in 2003 and then fell pregnant with her second child, Joel. “He was a miracle baby – they don’t know how that happened with the procedure I had.”
She couldn’t have brain aneurysm surgery while pregnant, but once Joel was born in 2004 and she’d “fought” to have a bit of time with him, it went ahead. “The brain aneurysm was massive – it was a nine-hour surgery and had an expected two-year recovery time,” she says.
“It was incredibly stressful at the time – I had a six-month-old baby. But afterwards, I tell you I am so grateful because cut grass never smelt so good. The sunset never looked so good. You know those things we walk past and say, ‘That’s nice’; I walk past and go, ‘That’s amazing’. It just ramps up your level of gratitude because you nearly didn’t have it.”
She had cancer twice more (both operable), but says she “dodged a bullet”.

second option
Tracy with Riggs, her dog
THE HALFWAY MARK

Tracy had another ‘aha’ moment on her 50th birthday, in October 2017, at which time Doggone’s first trials with two councils were underway.
Sons Levi (19) and Joel (17) said all the usual happy birthdays, but then Levi offered a bit of sage advice.
“Normally numbers don’t matter to me, but 50 I was a little squirmy on. And he said, ‘Happy birthday! Guess what? You are only halfway – you get to do it all again!’
“And I think, ‘That is amazing. From now on I am in charge of my life.’ “I’ve always felt, because I was the youngest child, that I had to get permission. Every now and again it hits me and I go, ‘You know what Tracy? You are in charge of your own life.’”

From that heart-wrenching Jane Doe moment to reuniting people with their loved ones through Doggone, Tracy Austin has experienced more than most. And something tells us there’s plenty more to come yet.

CLICK HERE ‘My dog & I’, a celebration of onto-it dog owners and
their pampered pooches, in our online magazine

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