A friend of mine suggested the other day that my shy Siamese, Matty, might be a ghost rather than a cat. After all, he materializes only for my husband and me (and the occasional overnight guest who happens to wake up and catch a glimpse of him gliding around in the moonlight). Most visitors don’t even know we have two cats; while Steve greets everyone at the door like a furry valet, Matty disappears into the maze of storage cartons under our bed until the coast is clear. He’s affectionate and wonderful when he reappears, so we don’t really mind that we have the Mr. Snuffleupagus of cats — we know our little buddy exists, and that’s enough.
It’s enough, that is, when we’re around to take care of him. Pet sitters are just strangers with food as far as Matty is concerned, so he settles in for long-term hide-and-seek when we leave town. That’s all right when we’re gone for just a few days, as two cats’ worth of food missing from the ceramic bowls in the kitchen, two cats’ worth of hair on the sofa, and two cats’ worth of poop in the litter box (plus regular contact from the pet sitter) are satisfactory evidence that everyone’s alive and well back home. I’ve gotten used to getting short-term sitter updates that say things like, “I brushed Steve for a while, and he looks happy and healthy … and I hope Matty’s okay, too.” What if we were to leave town for, say, a month?
As it happens, we spent a month away from home this summer on a road trip across the country. Our adventure called for some serious coordination: We had to figure out accommodations in a dozen different cities, make sure our temperamental old car could get us from one side of the continent to the other, and chart a course that wouldn’t strand us without gas or phone service on a rural highway. That said, our guys’ comfort and safety in our absence was far and away my biggest concern. So, how do you keep tabs on a cat who does a mean impression of the elusive snow leopard?
We booked our regular cat sitter, who stopped by to supplement the guys’ bowls of water and dry food, sifted and changed their litter, and gave them — well, gave Steve — plenty of attention. We gave another set of keys to our friends, who promised to come by and offer even more TLC. Then I crossed what felt like a crazy-cat-lady Rubicon … and I purchased MattyCam.
MattyCam is my nickname for the Samsung SmartCam WiFi Home Security Camera, a graham-cracker-size piece of technology with a suggested retail price of $149 (though a bit of casual web research turned up a refurbished one for $50). According to a PC Magazine review, the Samsung SmartCam would be easy to install and connect to my iPhone — a crucial detail for me, as my relationship with intricate gadgets is awkward at best (and it’s never, ever at its best). It featured serviceable motion detection, night-vision video, and a two-way microphone, all of which sounded good to me.
I bought the refurbished Samsung, taped it to the corner of our bar cart with some neon duct tape (there are those tech skills), and used more tape to mark the edges of the camera’s field of vision on our kitchen floor. I instructed our sitter to place the cats’ bowls within the crazy tape-polygon, I fired up the MattyCam, and I … left.
Reader, MattyCam was a revelation. True to form, Matty made a total of zero appearances for our sitter and our friends, even when they sang his favorite songs; he checked in like a night watchman, on the other hand, at 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time each evening. My phone pinged each time one of the guys sauntered in front of MattyCam, after which I watched live footage of them having dinner in New York City from an inflatable mattress in Los Angeles, a patio in Phoenix, and a shack in Mississippi; you get the idea.
At one point, thanks to service-provider-related technical difficulties (AT&T, j’accuse!), I went almost a day without my customary fix of grainy Steve and Matty antics. Desperate for my guys, I clicked the app’s two-way microphone and sang my heart out. Ten seconds later, those slinkers trotted in front of the camera, their eyes aglow. O brave new world,/ That has such meezers in’t!
MattyCam is far from perfect; it doesn’t have a two-way video feed and the ability to dispense treats, à la iCPooch ($129.99), or a laser pointer for cross-country playtime, like the Petcube Camera ($199). It requires an outlet, there’s a 1-3 second delay in its video feed, and its motion sensor can be too sensitive; that cautiously complimentary PCMag review I mentioned earlier positively enraged the site’s tech-savvy commenters. Primitive as my little camera may be, I can’t overstate how soothing it was to me when I was far from home. Those pixelated clips are my new favorite cat videos.
Have you used a camera to keep tabs on your cat? Was it worthwhile? Tell us in the comments.
Read more by Lauren Oster.
About the author: Lauren Oster is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She and her husband share an apartment on the Lower East Side with Steve and Matty, two Siamese-ish cats. She doesn’t leave home without a book or two, a handful of plastic animals, Icelandic licorice mints, and her camera. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.