Cats and the Internet go together like, well, cats and the Internet. Our furry feline friends make WiFi worth having, and the ability to connect cats to the world at large doesn’t just benefit bored humans who seek hilarious kitty videos, it also benefits bored shelter cats who need some excitement (or better yet, a new home). Fortunately for both kitty-kind and its human fans, tech startup Petcube is using its interactive video camera device to help shelters get their cats noticed, and the free Petcube app allows potential adopters to watch and play laser games with rescue kitties without ever setting foot in the shelter.
“It’s a really cool tool,” says Amber Holly, founder of Saving Grace cat rescue in San Francisco. “There is almost always someone playing with them, and we actually can upload photos and videos too, and people make comments.”
Holly’s rescue specializes in special needs cats and kittens who would otherwise be euthanized at local shelters, and it finds homes for about 100 cats annually. As a small nonprofit, Saving Grace is thrilled to see its adoptable cats getting extra attention through the Petcube app.
“People aren’t going to be driving by and noticing us, so any bit of exposure we can get is huge,” says Holly. “The Petcube company actually watches the cats too and notices when there’s new ones, and they’ll feature them on their website, which really helps.”
Saving Grace is just one of many organizations participating in the Petcube for Shelters program, which launched in the summer of 2015. The company offered to place a Petcube camera on site at various rescues, allowing shelters to share their animals with users of the Petcube app, who can see and play with adoptable animals.
According to Yaroslav Azhnyuk, co-founder/CEO of Petcube, rescue groups have been pretty excited about the program — and so is he. While Petcube owes its commercial success to pampered pets and the people who want to watch, talk to, and play with the furry companions they’ve left at home, the Petcube team always knew the device could also benefit nonprofits and less fortunate animals.
“We were actually designing this device while keeping in our minds that it would be the perfect thing for pet shelters to be able to showcase all the pets,” says Azhnyuk, who adds that shelter cats benefit from the extra communication with humans, who can speak to or play laser games with adoptable kitties (depending on the shelter’s privacy settings). You don’t have to have a Petcube (or even a pet) to play with shelter kitties — all you need is a smartphone.
“Anyone can download the Petcube app for free. It’s like a community of pet lovers,” says Azhnyuk.
The seed for that community was planted back in 2013, when Petcube launched a Kickstarter and quickly became a crowdfunding success story. The first pet lovers to back the project received their Petcubes last December, and the device (which retails for around $199) is now available at Petcube.com and through some North American retailers, including Brookstone, Fry’s, B&H Photo Video, Amazon, and Best Buy.
“Having your pet connected to the Internet means you can talk to your pet anytime, you can share your pet with anyone easily, and you can also have and benefit from aggregate data about how different pets behave,” explains Azhnyuk.
The Petcube for Shelters program started with 20 participating organizations, but more shelters have signed up since the program launched in the summer of 2015, and now more than 30 shelters are allowing their adoptable animals to show off their adorable antics online. According to the Petcube CEO, there’s still plenty of room for more shelters to get onboard.
“We would love new shelters to connect. Whenever there’s a new shelter we’re happy,” says Azhnyuk, who encourages app users to play with the shelter pets even if — like him — they’re not currently in a position to adopt.
Although the CEO and self-described cat guy loves cats and has lived with some in he past, he says his busy work life means he can’t commit to adopting another right now — it just wouldn’t be fair to the feline.
“I’m rarely at home, and I just felt it would be irresponsible of me at this stage in my life,” he explains.
Instead, Azhnyuk gets his cat fix by interacting with them online, helping to keep shelter cats fit and happy as they chase the PetCube laser he controls remotely through the app.
“It’s entertaining; for me it’s a stress-relieving thing.”
According to Amber Holly of Saving Grace, the shelter cats are just as entertained by the Petcube as the humans who remotely control it.
“I think they enjoy it quite a bit. They definitely gravitate to the area where the Petcube is,” says Holly, who notes that adoption rates for the organization are steady. When visitors come to the shelter but leave without adopting, the Petcube lets them continue interacting with the cats until they are ready to commit.
“They go home and play with the kittens through the Petcube and then come back and adopt. Or people who are planning to adopt but can’t pick them up for a week or so, they’ll interact with [the kitten] over the Petcube. So that keeps the relationship going and strengthens the adoption and makes sure it will happen,” Holly explains.
The CEO of Petcube hopes that someday rescues like Saving Grace may be able to turn their livestreams into revenue streams and use the app to collection donations, but for now the app is focused on something that’s priceless to people like Holly: getting adoptable cats into forever homes.
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About the author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten, GhostBuster the Lab and her newest dog, Marshmallow, make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google +