Friday, January 15, 2016

What if your pets could call you?

The PetChatz(TM) allows owners to call pets during the day. (Image courtesy

Imagine being able to phone your cat during the day. What if your dog could call you?

Occasionally when I am away, Phil’s dog sitter will put him on the phone and encourage me to talk to him. I am told this generally causes him to look, perplexed, at the phone, though I am not convinced it gives him much comfort.

But a company in the US is banking on just that – or perhaps they are seeking to sooth owners who have a touch of separation associated distress.

PetChatz is a system that allows owners to interact with pets via technology. Owners can phone their pet for a high definition audio/video chat; dispense treats and comforting scents (Phil finds some scents comforting that I’m not sure I’d readily dispense in my home); and even monitor your pet with sound and motion detection.

There is even a device called the PawCall which allows pets to contact their owner.

(Image courtesy
I should be clear: SAT has not trialled the device. I think the concept is fascinating but all technology can be used for good and evil (or maybe just not so good).

This could prove to be great tool for monitoring companion animals, particularly those that can get up to strife during the day, or maybe older animals or those with medical problems.

On the other hand, I am not sure who it serves best – the owner, or the animal. What would be interesting to find out is whether the sudden virtual appearance of the owner in the middle of the day (or night) would be reassuring, or distressing, for animals. And if your pet didn't answer the phone, wouldn't that cause you a bit of anxiety?

"Excuse me guys, just got to take a call from home". (Image courtesy
I’m also wondering if clever dogs (or cats) could abuse the PawCall system. Let’s say you dispense a reward when your dog “calls” you. What’s to stop a dog from constantly calling just to let you know she would like another treat? While it is designed for dogs, I am pretty sure that Hero - my very food oriented cat - would rapidly make the connection and serially harass me. (He’s already worked out pushing papers off my desk and dropping pens and highlighters on the floor are wonderful ways to get attention).

We’re living in an age where people complain that they have more contact with friends and family via devices than they do in the flesh. Could this technology assuage the guilt of some owners for not spending time with their animals, when what they need to do is go home and walk the dog?

What are your thoughts? Is this technology you would use to improve the bond with the non-human animals in your household? If so, how? If not, why not? What concerns is this technology addressing and are there alternative options to address these?