Friday, April 20, 2018
News Roundup

Live camera lets you play with kittens online with the iPet

CLEARWATER — Somewhere in the world, someone behind a computer jiggled the leopard tail.

Inside the Humane Society of Pinellas, a white kitten named Caspian launched onto a ledge, intrigued.

Click. The tail jiggled again.

Swat!

Click.

Swat!

The iPet Companion allows users to digitally play with shelter kittens: You can log in online anywhere, then remotely move three toys by clicking a button and watch the resulting feline antics through a webcam.

The Humane Society installed the iPet, which runs about $9,500, in September with a grant from Kong, a pet goods supplier. It's one of 12 in the nation — the first in Florida. (Note to players: It's not yet compatible with Apple products.)

"Completely addicting," said Twila Cole, the pet shelter's director of events and community relations. "People play through their lunch breaks."

Now, after year-end reports have been filed, the device can be partially credited for boosted adoptions. About 300 more shelter kittens found homes last year than in 2011, Cole said.

"It really increases the kittens' visibility — more people know they're here and come in to see them," she said. "And so many people share the page on Facebook and Twitter. Word spreads fast."

Eric Wilson, an engineer at Reach-In — the Boise, Idaho, company behind iPet — said the goal is to end animal homelessness.

The idea sparked with a universal yearning.

"One of our employees said, 'Man, it'd be great if I could play with my cat right now,' " Wilson said. "Thus the iPet was born."

This year, the company, which also places submarine cameras in aquariums, is putting three iPets in California, Iowa and Texas.

The device is also spreading to children's hospitals, Wilson said, so kids with weakened immune systems can still interact with pets. Cancer patients in Seattle can play with kittens in Clearwater.

At the Humane Society of Pinellas on a recent weekday, only four male kittens sprinted, leaped and meowed for the camera. After the holiday rush, Cole said, the feline supply was low.

"Animals finding new homes is always a good thing. That's what it's all about."

Danielle Paquette can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224.

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