Pet shelter cams good for cats, bad for productivity

If American worker productivity drops in the third quarter of 2012, the hunt for a cause can start here: iPet Companion, a “virtual playroom” that allows anyone, anywhere, to play with criminally cute, reprehensibly distracting orphan cats waiting to be adopted in Los Angeles city shelters.

The Los Angeles Best Friends Pet Adoption & Spay/Neuter Center, a Mission Hills, Calif., facility owned by the city of Los Angeles and operated by the nonprofit animal welfare organization Best Friends, launched its virtual playroom last week. Now, bored cubicle dwellers and weekend Web surfers can waste more hours online, seeing live video from the “free-roam” cat room and manipulating three toys in real time.

As mechanical arms dangle and swing toys — “teasers” or “charmers” in cat-person parlance — the human at the other end of the Internet connection can pan or zoom the camera for a closer look.

“It’s a great way for cats at our pet adoption center to be showcased,” said Sarah Schanz, marketing specialist for the center, adding that many shelters struggle with low cat-adoption rates because feline personalities don’t always shine in a shelter environment. Watching cats at play, however, helps people to form bonds before they have even seen animals in person.

The cat and dog toy company Kong saw a pilot program at an Idaho Humane Society facility and agreed to sponsor the iPet Companion installation in L.A. and four other U.S. sites. The Oregon Humane Society in Portland is one of the “playrooms” on the site, www.ipetcompanion.net. The Foothills Animal Shelter in Golden, Colo., reported that in the first month after its iPet Companion room went live in May, the number of cat adoptions rose 26.5 percent compared with the same period in 2011 and 67 percent compared with the month before the launch.

Robert Cohrs, marketing director for Kong cat products, said iPet Companion promises not only to raise awareness of shelter cats, boost shelter Web traffic and increase adoption rates, but to act as a form of “virtual volunteerism.” People interacting with cats online, he said, are essentially augmenting the work of volunteers who play with and care for animals until they get permanent homes.

Lots more here: Pet shelter cams good for cats, bad for productivity.