Of micropigs and tweeting dogs.
In his 1915 guide to pets, Alpheus Hyatt Verrill, an American naturalist, lambasted the dog-keeping habits of his day. “There is no excuse for pampering, constant fondling, dressing up in clothing, and other ridiculous customs,” he wrote. Dogs, Verrill insisted, should be treated like the animals they are. A century later, Verrill’s message has gone stupendously unheeded. Americans pamper their pets more than ever— treating them to such indulgences as airconditioned doghouses, craft beer (albeit without the alcohol), video games, and even humpable sex dolls. Future technologies promise to bring us even closer to our pets—and to make pets’ lives look more like human ones. Here’s how our relation ships with animals could change.
1. Pet Gadgets
Americans spend about $60 billion a year on their pets. We now have, for example, technologies that help people stay connected to their animals when they’re not home. A device called the iCPooch lets people videoconference with their dogs (and remotely dispense treats in order to persuade them to come to the camera). In a similar vein, a company called PetBot has developed a monitor that can sense when a pet approaches and record a short video—which it then e-mails to the owner. Future versions of the device will be able to post the videos directly to a pet’s accounts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Fitness gadgets are also big, likely because, as one recent survey found, more than half of American dogs and cats are overweight. A device called Kittyo allows owners to stream live video of their cats on a smartphone and, with the touch of a finger, make a laser dance around the room, keeping their cats entertained and active. A couple of companies off er what are essentially Fitbits for dogs; one device, called Voyce, keeps a record of a dog’s activity levels and other health indicators, which a vet can later review. Treadmills for dogs exist, too—though they’re nothing new. The first canine treadmills were invented in the United States in the early 1800s and used “dog power” to accomplish chores such as churning butter and grinding grain.
2. Canine Communications
At North Carolina State University, a group of computer scientists, electrical engineers, and veterinary behaviorists is developing a “smart harness” that collects a dog’s biometric data to help humans understand what the animal is thinking and feeling. The harness looks like a Kevlar vest for canines. It has sensors that monitor heart rate, respiratory rate, and other indicators, plus a microcomputer that can identify and interpret patterns in those biometric measures.
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