by Lauren Hertzler, Philadelphia Business Journal
If you’re a cat lover but allergic, Pennsylvania SPCA has got something special for you.
On Thursday, the Philadelphia-based PSPCA officially launched a tool that allows people to interact with shelter cats via their computer. Yes, you can now (finally) play with cats from your desk at work or in your “no pets allowed” apartment – with the click of a mouse.
The technology – iPet Companion software – was developed by Idaho-based Reach-In. Reach-In creates products that allow people to virtually control devices or equipment at any time, from anywhere. Physically moving something in an area that you’re not in is typically a radical notion, Scott Harris, the founder of Reach-In, said. “But in this day and age, it’s possible.”
The pet application came about by accident in 2010 when a Reach-In engineer was testing a mechanical arm in his home. He would press a button on his keyboard, which moved the arm, and his cat started to play with it.
“There was really no more thought than that,” Harris said. So, naturally, he called his local humane society to see if this cute idea could work in the shelter. Maybe it could even lead to more pet adoptions, Harris said.
Harris and his team retrofitted a cat room in the shelter with mechanical arms clad with feathers and strings, and a video camera to capture the action – for free. A link was posted to the shelter’s website, where viewers could operate the arms from their computer for two minutes at a time.
Within 45 minutes of the link being posted, visitors from all over the globe were participating in the online kitty play.
“For nine days straight, the queue never hit zero,” Harris said. “This really changed the dynamic,” he added. “Instead of driving down to the facility, people could interact with the cats from their computers. It shrunk the world a little bit, and adoptions did increase.”
According to the iPet Companion website, participating shelters have seen a 67 percent increase in kitten adoptions since the technology’s implementation. And, people from more than 170 countries have interacted live with the sheltered animals.
Harris said iPet Companion has largely been pro-bono since its inception. “These are shelters that can afford next to nothing,” he said. “Now they have this really powerful marketing tool that has the potential to reach millions of people.”
Pet360, a media company that connects pet parents with important information and advice, sponsored the implementation of the iPet Companion technology at the PSPCA. It supported the donation of the actual system and will take care of the recurring service fees. The PSPCA will be the ninth shelter in the United States to adopt the iPet Companion technology.
“I see tremendous potential for the iPet Companion technology to raise awareness of the animals that are available for adoption at the PSPCA,” Rose Hamilton, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Pet360 and a member of the PSPCA board of directors, said. “Our hope is that the increased attention will help us get even more pets adopted.”
Check it out for yourself, but full disclosure: It can get addicting. According to iPet Companion reports, the longest view time from any one user was 14 hours.