Editor’s Note: s.e. smith is a contributing writer for Catster’s sister SAY Media site, xojane.com. This article first ran on xojane.com, but we’re rerunning it (with permission!) so Catster readers can weigh in.
The comments that always make me the saddest on my posts about Loki and Leila are those from readers who say they love cats, but can’t have them because of allergies, limited space, or other issues. As someone who’s been living with cats all my life, the idea of not having a cat around the house is like imagining life with a huge piece of my soul missing.
2012 has been the year of the cute animal webcams. I know I’m not the only one who was glued to the penguin livecam earlier this year, spending hours chortling with glee and giggling at penguin antics — one of my friends actually recorded penguin calls and used them as the ringtone on her phone, because she’s cool that way.
And I love the steady flow of live kitten and puppy cams, along with more exotic offerings from zoological parks and conservation centers around the world.
Because the only thing that might possibly be cuter than a passel of adorable kittens is a passel of adorable leopard cubs, you know? And sometimes you really need a cuteness break in your day, whether you’re trapped in an office or working from home and wanting to look at something other than what you’re supposed to be doing.
But in all of these cases, there was something lacking. Distancing. You were stuck on the other side of the lens as an observer. While you could watch the animals in their environment, you couldn’t really interact with them. And it’s the interaction that I love with cats; the feeling of a heavy body in my lap, Loki batting at my head when he wants me to hurry up and get out of bed to get breakfast rolling, playing jingly ball footie with Leila.
And that’s what iPet Companion, launched at Best Friends Los Angeles among seven other shelters across the US, is bringing to the ball game. (So to speak.) Finally, you don’t just watch cute animals via webcam. You play with cute animals via webcam, which is basically THE BEST THING EVER if you can’t play with cute animals in real life.
Now, obviously you can’t pet them, hold them or snuggle with them, but you can waggle toys, which is pretty darn exciting.
Visitors worldwide have been flocking to the webcams, proving that love of playing with cats knows no national borders or boundaries. Of course, you might be limited by time zones, cats that aren’t interested in playing, or temporary shutoffs of the system to let everyone have a little rest, but if one shelter is not hoppin’, you can always pop over to another one and see what their cats are up to.
Huge numbers of cats wind up in shelters every year. This initiative is rad because it provides people an opportunity to play with cats, but more than that, it gets the faces of adoptable cats out to the public. And it works! People are responding to it with requests to donate, adopt, and play with cats in real life. Shelters have noticed an uptick in adoptions with the program, in addition to more community interest in adopting and fostering cats.
Plus, it’s an absolutely spectacular productivity suck. I spent an hour watching this morning, waiting for my turn, totally blowing the visitor average of 37 minutes out of the water. I had things to file and invoices to submit, but I was glued to the screen.
“I’ll do that in a minute,” I vowed, shocked when I looked up to see the time.
Commenters were mentioning that they wish it hadn’t been featured in the Los Angeles Times because they hadn’t gotten any work done, and I was beginning to share the sentiment as I hopped from shelter to shelter. When it was finally my turn to play in Los Angeles, a large gray cat totally ignored me, but somehow, I was cracking up anyway. Because, let’s face it, pompous cats are funny.
In Denver, I got a cat to spin around on her tail, while the cats in Idaho were too busy eating to care. In Oregon, I watched a kennel attendant feed everyone breakfast and accidentally zoomed in on his butt. Whoops. Sorry, dude.
Apparently you can get the system at home, too. I’m tempted to make y’all pony up so you can play with Loki and Leila all day.