The inspiration behind the world’s first microchip cat flap. PetPorte’s inventor, David Chamberlain writes about the journey from vet to inventor
An entrepreneur was born
Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great had all the states of ancient Greece in submission before he turned his attention to the region of Lacedaemon which surrounded the city of Sparta. Philip sent a message to Sparta which said, “If I win this war, I will destroy your farms, slay your people and raze your city.” The Spartans sent back a one word reply, “If.” Subsequently Philip and Alexander avoided Sparta completely and this is the origin of the term “a laconic phrase” for a very concise statement.
Since I learnt this I have always thought of the word “if” as being very powerful, especially when emphasised. As a vet I heard it frequently in the phrase, “If only I hadn’t done that.” often from pet owners who had inadvertently caused some harm to their pet through acts of kindness that had caused poisoning – the cat given an Aspirin tablet or the dog given fruit cake or grapes.
Something in my past has caused me to attach significance to the phrase, “If only I had done that.” This is a phrase that I never want to hear myself say. For that reason it is my nature to explore every potential opportunity before dismissing it. I really don’t want to go to my grave regretting not exploring opportunity.
Home of successful entrepreneurs
I have been fortunate to spend all of my working life on the island of Guernsey where many successful entrepreneurs live, some of whom were my clients. Their common traits seemed to be determination, tenacity and resilience. When they had a good idea, they pursued it doggedly and, if they had knock backs, they simply dusted themselves down and carried on again. I found these characters inspirational and their ‘can do’ attitude was refreshing, but it also made them demanding clients who wanted solutions, not problems!
My inspiration for the invention of the PetPorte
As a vet I am a scientist by nature, training, or both, which makes me very inquisitive and questioning. Back in the late 1990s I saw many cases where cats were injured by their collars. The cats would somehow get a front leg through their collar resulting in the collar running around one side of the neck and into the opposite arm pit (also known as the axilla). Often cats, when injured, will attempt to escape the place where the injury occurred and hide while they come to terms with their situation. By doing this, cats leave their owners unaware of their pet’s predicament and if left for more than a few hours the collar would start to cut into the soft, thin skin of the axilla creating a wound. These wounds were very difficult to manage, simply because skin heals poorly where there is a lot of movement and often it took extensive surgery to literally cut the wounds out and join healthy tissue back to healthy tissue.
Normal flat collars with buckles and those with elastic sections were both capable of causing injuries so I started to advise owners who wanted to use collars to use break-a-way collars if they had to use collars at all. It was not necessary to use collars to identify your cat because at this time microchips were becoming widely available and the unique numbers could be used to link pets to owners through databases. However, many owners needed their pets to wear collars to enable them to carry ‘tags’ which allowed them to pass through the available selective entry cats flaps. Selective entry cat flaps were a god-send to owners and cats whose lives would otherwise be blighted by dominant neighbourhood cats that would enter the resident’s home through normal cat flaps.
All the parts of the puzzle were in place:
- Microchips provided a means of identifying pets
- Existing selective entry cat flaps required collars and tags to gain access
- Non-break-a-way collars occasionally cause injury
This together with:
- My desire never to pass on an opportunity without exploring it
- The confidence I had taken from the example of local entrepreneurs
- An inquisitive scientific mind
Creating the range of Petporte microchip cat flaps – the world’s first microchip cat flap
Out of this melting pot came the concept of the selective entry microchip cat flap. With the assistance of Patent Attorneys and a gift of some money from my mother, I filed a patent application which was granted on 24th November 2004. Once the patent was granted I received many letters from companies wanting to help me develop my concept further but I was fortunate to have met an electronics engineer, Nick Smith, who was the fiancé of one of my veterinary assistants.
The two main challenges that Nick had to overcome in the development of functioning production models were:
- Unit cost management – At the time a good hand-held microchip scanner would cost anywhere between £80 to £400 for a good one and a selective entry cat flap would cost between £20 for a magnetic model to £60 for an infra-red one.
- To achieve a practice microchip read range – Some of the cheaper hand held microchip scanners had read ranges measured in a few centimetres, but we needed a read range that would open the lock before an authorised cat reached the flap.
We quickly progressed from wire wrapped around flower pots to coils in hinged canopies to a small production run in October 2005. Following CE testing, we enlisted the assistance of 20 of my clients on Guernsey to conduct a 6 month trial to test our latest model and to our delight, the feedback was positive. Confidence buoyed, we committed to our first production run and in November 2006 we sold our first unit on-line from our own website.
Creating the brand name
If it wasn’t for the spate of collar injuries, I may not have had the idea and I consider myself very lucky to have met people like Nick who have enabled me to be part of the solution to a problem.
David Chamberlain BVetMed., MRCVS.
Veterinary Consultant to PetSafe®