Shelter virtual playrooms: From mouse click to cats' forever homes

With a click of a mouse, web-surfing pet lovers can virtually “click” with adorable cats -- using their computers to engage with frolicking felines waiting to be adopted at select animal shelters.

Via iPet Companion -- recently launched at the Pennsylvania SPCA and sponsored by Pet360 -- you can watch a real-time video feed, using screen buttons to maneuver three cat toys attached to motors. Users can control the camera to zoom in and out, take still shots, and even view adjacent rooms.

Play with PSPCA Cats Now!

It’s fun with a serious and important mission: To help showcase the playful antics of these adoptables, so they hopefully move from cyberspace center stage and into loving forever homes.

“I see tremendous potential for the iPet Companion technology to raise awareness of the animals that areavailable for adoption at the PSPCA,” says Rose Hamilton, who sits on the board of directors of the Philadelphia-based shelter and is executive vice president of Pet360, which connects pet parents with the information, products and advice needed to raise happy and healthy pets.“Our hope is that the increased attention will help us get even more pets adopted.”

So far, the interactivity seems to be resulting in more adoption activity.

Since the technology was implemented in eight other iPet Companion-participating shelters before the PSPCA joined last week, they report a 67 percent increase in adoptions of cats -- which typically are harder to place than dogs. Meanwhile, donations to those participating shelters have simultaneously increased as much as three-fold.

Watching cats play, it's believed, helps people bond with them. Maybe morph fence-sitters into new pet parents who, perhaps, arrive at the shelter with a specific animal in mind.

At the very least, it's entertainment -- on both ends of the Intenet connection.

One user reportedly spent 14 consecutive hours watching the feed. “We also see this as a great way to stimulate the cats,"adds Pet360’s Hamilton, "and keep them entertained while they await their forever homes."

See why for yourself: From the website of the PSPCA -- the nation’s second oldest animal welfare organization and state’s largest shelter just access the video feed and click on “Let’s Play” to capture real-time happenings at the facility’s “free-roaming” cat colony room.

Having technology that makes it possible for compassionate people to engage with our animals over the internet is just one more way in which we can showcase our animals in hope of finding them good homes,” says Jerry Buckley, CEO of the PSPCA. “We are excited to see the positive social and lifesaving outcomes iPet will bring, and we are grateful for Pet360’s generous sponsorship.”

The technology behind iPet Companionwasn’t originally created to help adopt pets; rather, to allow technicians to remotely fix and inspect products. But while testing a mechanical arm in his home four years year, an engineer for Idaho-based parent company Reach-In noticed his cat was captivated by the moving arm.

“The creators of the technology thought it would be a cute idea to place their invention into a local animal shelter in hopes that it would raise awareness, and perhaps generate a few additional adoptions,” notes the iPet Companion website. “They were right.”

After retrofitting a cat room in the shelter with mechanical arms clad with feathers and strings, a video camera captured the action - and a link was posted to the shelter’s website, where viewers could operate the arms from their computer.

Within 45 minutes of the link being posted, visitors from all over the globe were participating in the online kitty play.Today, the interactive iPet Companion kitty cams are enjoyed by residents of at least 172 countries.

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