Before smartphones interrupted our lives there was another equally addicting computerized gadget in our pockets. It was keychain-sized and the icon started out as an egg. It then shook and hatched out into a little virtual pet. The Japanese created Tamagotchi pet had to be fed, cleaned up after and played with. It aged like a real animal and could be toilet trained by pairing behavioral cues like making a face and stink lines with the toilet icon.
I can still remember having to take a rest during my weekly middle school bowling league to look at my Tamagothci to make sure it was being cared for. I used those three buttons meticulously to ensure its happy meter was full and the hungry meter was low.
Today there are more complex virtual pets, with many more virtual ways to interact. There are also many more ways to interact with your real pet virtually.
Around ten years ago a Japanese created technology emerged that strengthened the bridged between human and dog communication. Bowlingual, a dog translator, categorizes a dog’s bark into six ‘fundamental patterns’ and tells you what they are saying from 200 preprogrammed phrases.
The sending device looks like a common dog collar and the receiver is the size of a small walkie-talkie. When this entertainment device first came out iti was only available in Japan, was around $75 and only translated the dog’s barking into Japanese. Today it is easily found on eBay and I found some that were being sold for ten dollars! I see Christmas presents in the near future. If the
creators of Meowlingual are reading this, I will gladly accept a sample for my cats.
Of course technology can be used for meaningful purposes as well. There are now apps on Smartphones that can be used in conjunction with certain leashes to track where your lost pet can be found. Other apps list the five closest dog parks, so you can take your pet for much needed exercise in a social setting. Some apps now link medicine taken, most recent weight, veterinarian contact information, rabies ID, microchip number, birth date, pictures and breeder info all at one source. Luckily there are many sources out there competing and the price for these apps are only a few dollars or even free.
A few years ago another Japanese company invented the iSeePet360 Remote Pet Feeder. Hooking up a USB to your computer you can watch your pet from work and when it walks near its food tower or when you deem it time to eat you can remotely release the food. The feeding device has an auger that slowly turns releasing the dry food to reduce the animal from eating too quickly. Food can be remotely released up to eight times a day. Using the webcam to monitor your pet you can also use the function to talk to them through the computer. The iSeePet360 Remote Pet Feeder is only available in Japan and is around $300.
For those of us who want to have an actual human taking care of our dog when we are away there is a solution. Camp Bow Wow of Tonawanda provides dog daycare, overnight boarding, and basic grooming. Marketing Mutt, Lauren Culp says “Our large facility offers three spacious climate controlled indoor play areas, three outdoor play areas with shade structures and doggy pools, very spacious overnight cabins with comfy cots and fleece blankets, all for a very reasonable, all-inclusive price.”
“Campers” need to be at least 4 months old and current on their rabies, distemper, and Bordetella vaccinations. They also need to be neutered if over 6 months old. With a little more than a dozen employees all “Camp Counselors” are trained and certified in dog behavior, pet first aid and CPR.
I believe the best part of your canine staying at Camp Bow Wow is not the bone shaped doggy pools or even the open play environment where all the dogs can play together. It is the technology.
Culp explained that “We have online Camper Cams, which means parents can log online to watch their dog play anytime they want free of charge.” Of course owners can also call them to check in on their dogs.
For now human care will always trump technology when it comes to pet sitting. Until technology catches up with nature — producing a virtual pet that can go the bathroom, produce dander, vocalize and look at me with its scaly/feathery/furry face and show me unrestricted love — I will stick with the real thing.
Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.