The Secret Life of Pets

Wondering what they’re doing during the day, we bought a device to spy on our dogs.

Illustration by Mike Deas

My husband and I talk about our pets too much. When we first met, we each had a dog: his a very masculine, probably-a-shepherd-husky-mix named Captain, and mine a miniature schnauzer with long, fluttering eyelashes called Zoey. They’re both “ours” now, along with Neville, a one-eyed, three-legged, teenaged tuxedo cat we found on the side of the road when he was barely two weeks old. You’d never know we bottle-fed him, because he’s elusive and sparing with affection—except when he isn’t, and then you can’t get rid of him. (You see? I’m doing it again …)

The thing is, we don’t have kids yet, so our pets are our babies. (Realistically, they’ll probably always be our “first children”—sorry, future little McPhersons.) Like children, sometimes they drive us crazy. Captain turns every walk into the Iditarod. Zoey is an attention-hungry diva, but with an acute sense of stranger danger. Neville meows incessantly through the night. But we can’t help forgiving them because, also like children, they love us unconditionally and make us laugh every day, such as when Zoey and Neville wrestle like pros, or when Captain gets so excited that he actually spins in circles for full minutes at a time. 

Knowing what happens when we’re at home, we always wondered what they do when we’re not. Are they crazier than ever, or unexpectedly mellow? We passively researched baby monitors—er, pet cameras—but it wasn’t until a friend installed one that we really felt validated in doing the same. Enter the Furbo.

The sleek, modern device arrived in an elegant box. It promised two-way audio and a treats dispenser. We downloaded the app to our phones, connected the device to Wi-Fi, and tested it out. Instant gratification.

With the Furbo, we can not only see our pets lounging on the couch, but also talk to them. We say, “Zoey, Captain, get off the sofa!” And they don’t even raise their heads. Okay, on to function number two: treats. A recording of my husband’s voice asks, “Do you want a treat?” before launching a cluster of bite-sized nibbles across the living room. Our pets are very motivated by food. Usually the cat gets there first, scooting down the stairs and peeling around the corner of the coffee table to gobble up what he can. Zoey is a rooter—schnauzers are bred for it—so if something gets lost behind a couch cushion or beneath the loveseat, she’ll spend the rest of the day searching for it. We know, because we check in a lot to see what they’re doing. Captain is more aloof. He’ll amble into the room, condescending to leave the comfort of his bed to sniff at any treats the others may have missed. Still watching, we send another shower to ensure equal distribution.

The pet camera is supposed to capture their every movement. When Zoey voices her frustration at suspicious noises on the street, Furbo sends an alert to our phones: “Your dog is barking. Would you like to check in?” (We would.) If Captain kicks his football around or Neville happens to make eye contact with the lens, the camera captures a still and adds it to a photo gallery we can review at day’s end. (We will.) And should some ill-advised stranger enter our home and face down the three pets inside, we’ll receive notice that the Furbo has detected a human. So you see, there’s even a practical security reason for having this device.

But here’s the rub—it turns out that our pets do very little in our absence. In lieu of playful mischief, what they mostly do is sleep … off screen. When we moved the camera to our bedroom, expecting to catch them sleeping illicitly on our bed (there were telltale signs), they apparently relocated elsewhere, as if they knew they were being watched. Checking in most days means being greeted with an empty frame; we see the couch, the rug, the television tuned to public programming … but no pets in sight. If we tap the dispenser button, we’re treated to a brief appearance of each pet, who then disappears again until further incentivized. 

Frankly, this behind-the-scenes look is a lot less interesting than we’d thought. Our pets don’t bark (usually) or destroy things (that we know of), and they always welcome us home with wagging tails and leg rubs. The pet camera doesn’t show us what we’re missing, because we’re not missing much. But at least we can congratulate ourselves on being the best pet parents ever. 

This article originally appeared in our December 2018 issue.

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