Some people are natural pet owners. They grew up around dogs or cats (or rabbits or iguanas), and want the same companionship as adults.
I'm not one of those people. I'm out a lot, including frequent travel, and no animal deserves that lack of attention and care.
But I do like animals, and I cat- and dog-sit for friends, whom I like to help out.
I've seen and heard of some cool things over the years, like the LitterMaid electronic self-cleaning kitty litter removal system; another gizmo that trains cats to do their business in the toilet (the flushing part —that's a whole other conversation); the use of laser pointers to play with cats; elaborate water fountains for cats; and Poop-Freeze (making the thankless task of cleaning up wet vomit and poop oh-so-much easier).
The pet industry is including more automated items in its inventory of devices that make its consumers — dogs, cats and the like — howl and purr in a good way.
Lots of gadgets popped up during the recent Global Pet Expo in San Diego.
"Certainly technology has definitely been embraced by the consumer. They have demanded it for their personal life, now they want their pet to have it," said Geoff Mott, president of PetGadgets.com (http://www.petgadgets.com), an online pet retailer based in Phoenix.
"People now have busier lifestyles. They're short on time. They love to kind of challenge their pet to get their pet energized, even though they don't receive attention they usually get."
My friends, like me, lead hectic lives, and sometimes they don't have time to walk their dogs as thoroughly as they'd like. That's where something like the Pet Treadmill ($599) can help.
You're reading right. There are treadmills for dogs. It's not like they're training for a triathlon, nor will pet gyms be a standard anytime soon, but the pet-sized version of a device humans already use has become a hot ticket.
At PetGadgets.com, the item does pretty good business. "In a lot of places, there might not be a lot of places to walk, or (people) get home so late they might not have a chance to walk Fido," Mott said.
"It's not a replacement for walking a dog. It's extra exercise for a dog, especially high-energy dogs."
Mott said technology is being incorporated in the pet industry in the toys, recreation and entertainment area, as well as addressing the issues of taking care of pets when time is short, or the chores are unpleasant to do.
Cat owners have long sought alternatives to the traditional kitty litter. It's a daily job many wish they didn't have to do as often.
That's where Litter-Robot ($329) can help (www.litter-robot.com). This 1950s, space-age looking device is in an enclosed globe with a little step leading into it, and it helps keep the smell and kitty litter from being tracked all over the house.
It works by rotating the globe around after the cat has done its business, and dropping the clumped waste into a drawer that's built into the base.
No more scooping, no more chance of a rake breaking and getting caught in the stuff — and no more daily emptying. Litter-Robot president Brad Baxter, whose company is based in Pontiac, Mich., came up with the idea almost a decade ago.
"I had inherited a couple of cats and I had difficulty with one of the cats that didn't use it -- cat litter — frequently,” he said. “I thought about making it more automated."
He knows some people might balk at paying so much for something that really doesn't take much to do every day. But he says, people said the same thing about washing machines when they first came out — who thought they'd be paying that much money to wash clothes?
"Once you've experienced efficiency of an appliance that really works, it makes a lot of sense to switch to that," Baxter said.
An array of choices
Among some of the other tech gadgets for pets:
- The programmable Le Bistro Electronic Portion control feeder ($50) makes sure your dogs and cats won't go hungry if you're running late from work.
- The QuickFinder ($30) makes the harrowing task of cutting pets' nails a little less so.
- The PetSafe Micro I.D. Rescue Collar for Dogs (or cats, $43) contains a USB flash drive that stores your pet’s vital stats. It’s also a non-invasive alternative to lo-jack microchip identifiers that use varying scanning systems.
- Panasonic’s Network Camera ($85) helps keep an electronic eye on pets at home, allowing owners to check in on them, a la nanny cams.
Not all tech tools are practical. There is play involved, too, and that's where some of the most fun gadgets come in:
- The Mouse in the House cat toy ($63) is one of those pieces of entertainment that could potentially yield hours of activity. By learning to press a button, the cat can release an automated mouse that runs on a small track through a dollhouse-sized living room and kitchen.
- Dogs can play with the canvas Talking Bone ($21) — owners record their voices into the device — as well as a retractable ball-thrower like the Ball Blaster ($20), or lit-up Frisbees.
In other words, there's a whole world of future fantastic for the furry kids in your lives now.
"You have that camera, you buy that toy, you take out the iPhone, and watch your pet playing with that toy or eating out of the automatic pet feeder," Mott said. "It's almost like the days of the Jetsons."