The Austin Chronicle

BarkHappy App Connects Pups for Playtime

It’s a dog meet dog world

By Tucker Whatley, February 10, 2017, Features

Our digital age makes many human social activities more convenient than ever before. Accepting invitations to parties, sending messages to friends, and finding a potential date requires a mere click, swipe, or keystroke. But up until recently, we humans have been hogging the power of this technology all to ourselves.

Ninis Samuel thought it was about time someone let man's best friend in on the social media craze. He created an app specifically for dogs and their owners called BarkHappy, launching it in Austin as a start-up in January 2015. The idea for the service came from problems Samuel ran into trying to go places with his dog Kerbey.

"What I realized as a dog owner is that it's so hard to find dog-friendly places," Samuel said. "There were really no good websites or apps out there that were giving the right kind of information that I needed."

Samuel set about fixing this problem by letting BarkHappy users add dog-friendly locations to an interactive map, as well as the canine-specific amenities these places provide, such as patios, water bowls, and treats. The map is constantly updated with fresh locations and tips by diligent dog lovers.

The app features profiles for dog and owner, allowing for information such as the dog's preferred type of playmate and times available to play to be displayed. Users send "wags" to other dogs (think Facebook-style pokes), find and message dogs to meet up with in the area, and even create special dog play events. For Brooke, a BarkHappy user who sent a wag to Chronicle mascot Hank, it's this social aspect of the app that her 4-year-old mixed breed, Riggs, has enjoyed the most.

"It's nice to network with like-minded dog people," Brooke said. "But more importantly, Riggs has found some real buddies through the app. When you find a dog who meshes well and tires your active dog out, it's priceless."

Samuel, a UT grad, decided to launch BarkHappy in Austin because of the city's outdoor lifestyle and reputation for being dog-friendly and tech-forward.

"The people of Austin are super welcoming," Samuel said. "They're really great when it comes to new technology, great at supporting new start-ups and giving feedback, and there's a culture here that welcomes this sort of thing."

A few months after the test version's launch in Austin, the service expanded to Seattle and Portland, and in June of 2016, the app became available nationwide. BarkHappy now boasts over 60,000 users and listings for over 27,000 dog-friendly places and businesses.

BarkHappy continues to grow thanks to frequent charity events geared toward humans and dogs as a pair, such as bar crawls and fitness classes. These events raise money to benefit local animal shelters as well as promote the BarkHappy brand to potential new users. Twenty-two of these events took place across the country in January alone.

For Samuel and the BarkHappy team, their current plan is to continue to increase their install base and the scope of their charity events, as well as to keep fine-tuning the app and its reach. If they play their cards right, they may be able to throw the rest of the world a bone.

Copyright © 2023 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.