Reality TV Starring Shelter Cats

Reality TV Starring Shelter Cats

Story at-a-glance -

  • An animal shelter in New York City has installed remote-controlled cat toys that can be manipulated by visitors to the shelter's web site, allowing them to play with the cats in real time.
  • After installation of the equipment, visitors to the NYC shelter web site increased dramatically, and cat adoptions rose significantly.
  • The kitties who play with the toys controlled by internet visitors get exercise, mental stimulation, and social interaction. Visitors to the web site have the chance to interact with the shelter's kitty population and get a sense of the personalities of cats up for adoption. The shelter receives exposure and increased cat adoption rates.

By Dr. Becker

At the Bideawee1 animal shelter on East 38th Street in New York, in the kitty playroom, there are three really neat remote-controlled cat toys that can be maneuvered by anyone with a computer and internet access, anywhere in the world, any time, day or night.

A webcam captures the cats playing with the toys.

Or cats simply watching the toys move.

Or cats ignoring the toys altogether.

Internet visitors have up to 2 minutes to try to engage with the kitties by moving the toys with their mouse.

After your 2 minutes are up, you can wait for another turn in the queue if you like.

While you're waiting in the queue, you have a view of the playroom, the toys being remotely controlled by other internet visitors, and the cats at play (or not).

The toys are called iPetCompanions2.

The day I tried them out, I could only see one kitty in the playroom, sitting behind a post in the corner. When I began moving the toy closest to him, he looked at it -- but that was the extent of his interest. Eventually he moved further back into the corner and out of sight.

My rather uneventful two minutes aside, according to the folks at Bideawee, remote playtime with shelter kitties is quite popular.

Remote-Controlled Cat Toy is a Hit with Shelter Website Visitors

The Idaho-based developer of the iPetCompanion contacted the Idaho Humane Society and offered to donate his first unit to them. According to the IHS, their web site traffic went through the roof in the first two weeks after the machine arrived.

Even better, kitten adoptions increased significantly after the toys were installed.

An unforeseen benefit of the remote-controlled toys has been that cat lovers who can't have a kitty of their own are at least able to watch and interact with shelter cats waiting for homes.

Over 200 animal shelters have put in requests for iPetCompanions for their resident cat populations. At this writing, the cost of a full system (hardware, software, machine pieces) is $5,200.

At Bideawee, the number of visitors to the shelter's web site has doubled since the appearance of the iPetCompanion.

Internet users are logging in from places as far away as Australia, Croatia and Sweden. Because of the difference in time zones, many people outside the U.S. are playing with the Bideawee cats in the middle of night New York time. This helps keep the kitties engaged during times when shelter staff and volunteers aren't around (which also happens to be the time many cats are most active).

Potential Benefits

I love the whole idea of the iPetCompanion.

I'm sure there are those who feel the $5,200 donation to shelters should be used for a different purpose, but I see significant potential benefits to the equipment, including:

  • Physical exercise and mental stimulation for cats willing to interact with the remote-controlled toys... endless hours of entertainment for kitties who prefer to sit on the sidelines... social interaction opportunities for everyone in the playroom.
  • A showcase for the personalities of shelter cats up for adoption. Some cat lovers want a very playful kitty (maybe even a 'wild' one), while others prefer a quieter, less active pet.
  • An online 'storefront' for prospective adoptive families.
  • Promotion for shelters and increased adoption rates for homeless kitties.

If an individual or group of benefactors wants to donate $5,200 to an animal shelter to purchase an iPetCompanion or similar technology to benefit the cats at the shelter, I can think of worse ways to spend the money.

Of course, no remote-controlled toy can take the place of the love, security and permanency of a forever home. Hopefully, this remote-controlled device can play a role in helping more homeless kitties find adoptive families.