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By Bahar Ferguson

While 2020 certainly had its share of challenges, there is one good thing to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uptick in remote work that came along with it — more time with our pets. As humans have bemoaned the lack of social contact and loss of breakroom and watercooler interaction with their coworkers, pets have been soaking in all the extra attention and time with their people (well, most pets. There are probably a few cats out there that would prefer you get out of their space, already).

However, that time will come to an end for many, as offices create safer working environments and welcome employees back. But what about those furry or feathered companions that have gotten used to your company all day? Fortunately, technology has some answers to keep them from feeling neglected even as you head back to your properly sanitized, socially distanced office.

Say Cheese, Get Cheese

Let’s face it — one of your pet’s favorite things about you is the treats you dispense. We’re not saying a machine can replace you, but you can certainly supplement your presence with a camera that will dispense treats.

Yes, these exist, and they’re the next-best thing to being there. These devices vary a little bit in basic design, but essentially, they are cameras that allow you to see your dog from your phone or tablet, speak to him through the microphone and dispense treats remotely. Some devices include a two-way camera so your pet can see your face, too.

These cameras come in a variety of price points and features — camera quality, for example — as well as the size of treat dispenser (some have to be used with a particular treat brand while others can use anything as long as the size is right). Some will even automatically take selfies of your pet when they stand in front of the camera or alert you when your dog is barking incessantly. But all of them perform the same basic function — allowing you to continue the regular interaction your pet has become used to while you’ve been home.

Security Cam to Pet Cam

As the Internet of Things (IoT) has proliferated and more people have fully connected smart homes, home camera systems have become much more common. With the touch of a button on a companion app on your phone or tablet, it’s easy to get a look at the interior of your home — great for keeping an eye out for intruders or misbehaving teenagers. So why not use it to keep an eye on your pets as well?

Unlike the treat cam, this is not an interactive experience. However, it’s a great solution for those who already have cameras installed and can work well for pets of the non-canine variety. Miss watching your hamster run on his wheel during the day? Set up a camera by the enclosure and it’s just like being there. For birds allowed to fly free, you can mount wall cams higher up near some of their favorite spots and watch them as they move around during the day.

Rover.com

If you want your pet to have a little more human touch while you’re away, never fear — the Internet can come through here, too. Rover.com is an online marketplace for pet services like pet sitting and dog walking. It offers long-term services like boarding and in-home pet sitters, but also caters to those who just want a little companionship for their dogs or cats during the day. If you’re worried about your pet needing to readjust to spending eight or more hours alone every day, it’s simple to hop onto this site and get matched up with a dog walker or a drop-in visitor for a check-in or even a play date.

Worried about trusting your pet to a stranger? Rover.com advertises that every sitter or caretaker who lists their services on the site has been reviewed, and service providers can display a background-check badge and client testimonials. Rover also offers a guarantee, which covers any injuries or damages incurred during a visit and recommends an in-person meet-and-greet before booking services.

Mood Music

Music is soothing to pets as well as humans. Just search for “dog calming music” on whatever music service you subscribe to, and you’ll find numerous playlists. If you’ve got a Sonos (or similar) system, try setting alarms to turn on music where you know your pet spends time during the day. For example, if you know your dog likes to head into the den when the afternoon sunlight hits the couch just right, set the Sonos to start playing at noon. It will break up the alone time and make the afternoon nap even more pleasant.

Remote Control Playtime

If you’re not already convinced that technology was the best thing to happen to the working pet parent, let’s end with this one: remote-controlled toys that let you play with your pets from across town. Smart bones can be set to react to different activities, essentially playing with your dog on their own, while ball launchers let you participate in a good game of fetch without actually being there. The possibilities are numerous and nearly endless, so if you’re feeling guilty about leaving your pets alone, take a look at the many options available.

Back-to-work time for you doesn’t have to mean alone time for you or your pet. Technology is here to make sure you’re still there in spirit, if not in person.

Bahar Ferguson is president of Wasatch I.T., a Utah largest provider of outsourced IT services for small and medium-sized businesses.