Kennel-Cam Apps Let You Spy on Spot (Video)

Online Doggy sets up kennel-cam systems at pet-boarding facilities across the country, allowing dog owners to view real-time streaming videos from the pet-care playground.

And the Colorado-based company took helicopter pet-parenting a step further this year, creating ODoggy apps for iPhone and Android.

“It was something we had to do,” Online Doggy owner Blake Walliser said of the new apps, which offer streams from more than 400 pet-care providers in the U.S.

The company found that the customers who were most enthusiastic about video streaming were also more likely to be tethered to their smartphones than their laptops. “Mobile is built into our demographic,” he said.

Round-the-clock surveillance, streamed right to your phone — it’s apparently a dream come true for the severely paranoid, or those who feel naked without a dog in their purse.

But there are relatively few of those types in Walliser’s demographic. Most viewers are not necessarily pet owners checking in on their canine’s caregivers — many are commuters who access the site out of boredom, curiosity or for a spot of amusement.

Patricia Minger, a pharmacy technician who boards her Icelandic sheepdog five days a week at Happy Hound in Oakland, said she visits the site “at least once a day, probably more like twice or three times a day,” to check up on her dog, Gimli. She also uses the iPhone app when she’s out and about.

“I like the security of knowing that this is all what it seems to be — that I can check in on him and there’s nothing hidden,” Minger said.

The ODoggy apps are free to download, but subscriptions to each facility’s video stream costs $1.99 a month or $4.99 a year. The iPhone app, released in April, currently has about 40,000 subscribers. The Android app came out in August, and with about 10,000 users, is quickly gaining ground.

After a Christmas-season boom, Online Doggy expects to break even — development fees ran into the six figures — in another month or two. After that, Walliser said, “our intent is to drop the price of the apps.”

Although the apps appear to offer a steady profit stream, Walliser sees them more as a customer-service perk. It’s a way to attract new clients — by helping his clients attract new clients.

Suzanne Golter had the cameras installed when she opened her Happy Hound business eight years ago. She said the tapes have helped her convey a sense of transparency and peace of mind to customers.

“I think it’s a ‘feel-good’ for the clients,” she said. “We’re a very transparent company, so everything we do is out there in the open.”

A monitor on Golter’s desk lets her see all of the Happy Hound yards from her office. And, in the event of a dog-on-dog altercation, she can go back to the tapes to “see who caused it, what happened, and take it from there.”

Still, the systems leave room for improvement: Apple users can only access the Java-powered “regular quality” stream, which is more like stop-motion than video. The higher-quality desktop stream requires Windows, Internet Explorer and an Active X control called Live.cab.

Windows 7 users face an even longer list of setup requirements. The result of all those clicks is a stream just barely fast enough to be called video. And even then, the lighting is less than optimal, the angles are odd and you may have to watch the crowded playground for a while before catching a glimpse of your dog.

A few customers at Happy Hound said they’re glad the cameras are there, but don’t tap into them very often because of the low visual quality.

Walliser initially sought to peddle his streaming surveillance service to childcare centers, but parents found it creepy, and facilities weren’t interested in having parents scrutinize their every move.

He founded Online Doggy in 2001, and now serves 470 clients in 46 states. The company also sells a $299 at-home pet cam equipped to live-stream on computers or mobile devices.

“A lot of people who buy those are just curious — what does their dog do all day at home?” Walliser said, noting they are often surprised at what the camera captures. “They place the camera where they think the dog spends the whole day, and they are wrong.”

So you think Fido wouldn’t dare jump on your bed? There’s only one way to find out …


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