You stumble upon the most interesting things when you’re online. Yesterday, I found a press release for the Pet Protector System, which is being billed as a 911 emergency system for dogs and cats. I immediately was intrigued, as I have one of each species under my roof, so I read the release and then jumped onto the company’s Web site.

For a mere 20 bucks per pet, per year — $100 annually for households with five or more critters — you will receive an ID tag for your pet that contains an identification that’s unique to the pet, plus a toll-free number that can be called 24/7 anywhere in the United States and Canada. Anyone who comes upon a lost or distressed pet can call the number and immediately will be connected to a live operator who, according to the company, will contact the pet’s owner. If the pet is injured, and the owner can’t be found right away, the operator will provide the caller with directions to the nearest vet and authorize emergency medical treatment.

I never thought I would see the day that my pets would have a 911 system. I’m trying to decide whether I find such a thing amusing or absurd.

If you don’t think these folks are going to be successful with this service, think again. There are more than 70 million domestic dogs and more than 80 million domestic cats in the U.S. Their owners spend tens of billions of dollars annually on pet care, which is one of the country’s few growth markets right now. People are going to sign up for this service, and this company is going to rake in the dough. Even 1% market penetration would generate roughly $30 million in registration fees each year.

I’ve been thinking about all of this in relation to the 911 service that we humans rely upon. The sector strikes me as being the red-headed stepchild of emergency response. That’s not how I see it. When I think of the 911 sector, a bicycle wheel immediately comes to mind, with 911 being the hub and the various elements of emergency response emanating from it as the spokes. Whatever happens in emergency response starts in the 911 center, which is analogous to the central nervous system.

I don’t think government officials at the federal and state levels see things in the same way. Lawmakers and policy-makers will tell you that they do, but actions speak louder than words. Congress largely has failed on its promise made five years ago to provide much-needed funding for public-safety answering point upgrades, only appropriating $43 million — or 3% — of the $1.25 billion it authorized. States still continue the practice of diverting money collected from commercial wireless subscribers to support the 911 system to other purposes. And no one in Congress seems able to understand that such practices not only degrade the 911 system, they also defraud the American public.

It all makes me wonder whether the time has come to consider privatizing the 911 sector. What if the commercial wireless carriers kept the money they collect from their customers for 911 instead of turning it over to the states? And what if they increased those fees as needed to generate the money required to operate and maintain a robust, next-generation 911 system? Isn’t it reasonable to think that entities such as Verizon and AT&T would be capable of effectively managing and operating the 911 system, if they were properly motivated, i.e., if they could turn a profit?

Perhaps it’s a crazy notion. The commercial wireless carriers likely wouldn’t want the headache, even if they could make a few bucks for their trouble. And public safety would fight, claw and fang, to avoid losing control of what is arguably the most important component of emergency response. But is the privatizing notion any crazier than thinking that federal officials one day will give the 911 sector the respect and support — e.g., money, and lots of it — that it so richly deserves and needs? Based on historical evidence, both notions seem equally unlikely.

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.