If you ask me about my cat, I will bring her up in any future conversation we ever have. Speaking of which, I’m so glad you asked. Pepper is a 7-year-old tabby who (like the rest of us) developed an insatiable snacking habit over the past year.
Since the pandemic started, she has gotten used to having me around the clock. Refusing to adhere to social distancing guidelines, she stares off jumping at the base of my desk, the armrest of the sofa, and the end of my bed. There has also been a noticeable change in the passive-aggressive (or aggressive-aggressive) tactics that Pepper is fed – especially at 2:30 in the morning. Multiple broken phone screens, broken water glasses, and sleepless nights led to mutual frustration that could be called uncomfortable. I know if I feed her before bed she will still come to her second settlement in the wee hours of the morning. So I succumbed to their collateral damage and fed them as needed until we developed levels of conditioned code dependence that ruined my sleep.
[Photo: courtesy Litter-Robot]Fortunately, a few months ago I came across the Feeder-Robot, an automatic espresso machine-sized cat food dispenser that connects to your home wireless network and holds 32 cups of peacekeeping nibbles. The electronic feeder can be scheduled to release 1/4 cup of food throughout the day or refill the bowl for grazing as needed. And most importantly, with the accompanying app, you can even forego a one-tap service at 2 a.m. This high tech device, which I may have written off as a silly investment earlier, saved my relationship with my cat and sleep schedule by making feeding it as easy as the click of a button.
The feeder comes from the makers of Litter-Robot – a Michigan-based company best known for their smart, bowl-shaped, self-paddling litter boxes. The collection of cat technologies extends to lo-fi options like squishy beds, bud and flower mint, and design-oriented scratching posts. While some pet companies design based on your cat’s completely unpredictable preferences, Litter-Robot takes a sensible approach: cat products that make life easier for owners.
My feeder robot, or as I called it in my app, Pepper Bot, is supposed to publish 1/4 cup of food twice a day: once around noon and then again around 2 a.m. There are times when the two of us feel a bit down and that increases to three times a day, but I monitor Pepper’s daily, weekly, and monthly food intake through the dedicated app. This is new to our household – where my partner and I were both feeding their breakfasts when we woke up like ships in the night every two hours. She kept the trick up for about a year, until we saw the healthy cat height chart in our vet’s office and recognized it as a curvy 4 rather than a slim 2. We’re not a body-shameful household, but I know cats who make mistakes towards thicc can have a variety of health complications down the road.
[Photo: courtesy Litter-Robot]The bot sends me a push every time food is served. A small light on top of the device changes color when food is running low, but the app also lets me know. I haven’t been going anywhere lately, but when I do I am glad to know that I can send her a meal if I find myself late. And even if my internet goes down, the Feeder-Robot has a battery-powered 24-hour backup and program memory so that the food continues to be served on schedule. When your phone isn’t around, there’s also a control panel with a tactile dispense button so your cat won’t learn to press buttons for an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Overall, Pepper Bot, Pepper and I get on well. The bot itself was easy to set up and ready to use almost immediately. The iOS (and Android) app is straightforward and intuitive. Shockingly, Pepper wasted no time getting used to her new electronic best friend who served food on demand.
The feeder is a bit big – I had to put it in my living room because it was awkward in a small city kitchen. While it’s slick and harmless, there’s no hiding place that it’s a glowing tub of cat food. And there is the price: $ 249 is also a far cry from the $ 10 I spent on their silicone puzzle feeder. It is certainly an investment, but I try to think about all the times I paid our petsitter during a 24 hour trip or the fear I get when I suddenly realize I am late will be at home. Another unexpected problem: Pepper now sees every time I pick up my phone as an opportunity to be fed. She made several attempts to jailbreak my phone. In fact, it slowed my habit of mindlessly scrolling during the work day.
But maybe that’s not a complaint after all.