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The Case for Buying a Doggy Spy Cam (If You Really Need One)

A photo of the author's dog, Peter, whom this article is about.
A wonderful boy. Photo: Kelly Conaboy

I’m not sure if you know this, but you’re alive at a very lucky time. If you’re reading this article in July of 2018, when it was published, rather than at some point in the future when it has been archived for impending humans to read while weeping at how good they could have had it had they only been born earlier, you happen to be alive at the same time as Peter, my dog.

Like you, I thank Heaven for your good fortune.

Peter is a small man of about 25 pounds, with amber eyes, floppy ears, and a stout, somewhat muscular body that is the result of a combination of breeds, including but not limited to Labrador retriever, Chihuahua, golden retriever, and dachshund. Here he is:

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

As you can see, he is breathtakingly handsome.

I’ve had him for a little over a year now. Though I don’t believe the demands on dog owners and parents are comparable, the thing I learned instantly upon getting him is, from what I can tell, similar to the thing one learns instantly upon getting a human: Having a helpless, little thing you love in your care turns down the volume on all of your old anxieties and eclipses them with one giant new one, which is — will I kill it by accident?

In my experience, the anxiety journey goes like this: At first, you worry about killing the dog all day, every day. Then, a few months in, you only worry about killing the dog for a majority of the day every day. A bit of relief. In the future, as I continue down this road, I hope to only worry about killing the dog for a smaller majority of the day every day.

When I’m home it’s fine — I can see him, he’s fine, we’re walking, we’re hanging out, my apartment is not very big, he is fairly chill, I know not to give him any grapes, it’s fine. My anxiety comes while I’m away from home, unable to stare at him and bother him with affection. At this point anything can happen: The apartment can catch on fire; he can find something to chew on and electrocute himself with (for Peter’s sake, I’ll point out that he has never so much as chewed on a shoe, but you never know); the window-unit air conditioner can fall out and into my apartment, landing on top of him (!); he can fall off of the bed and break his neck; he can suffer some sort of internal trauma; someone can break in and steal him; maybe there is chocolate somewhere?; he can die of a broken heart because he thinks I abandoned him, when in reality I only had to go into the office for five hours.

I was getting a manicure one day when I became overcome with the idea that I would return home to a dead dog, and it was at this point that I decided something had to be done. “Therapy and pharmaceuticals,” you’re hoping, but no. As luck would have it, a friend had already gifted me an Amazon Cloud Cam — an app- and Alexa-based home security camera with two-way audio, night vision, and optional push notifications for movement — that I, afraid of both the prying eyes of Jeff Bezos and the process of “setting up” a “device,” had yet to put to use.

Unlike something like the Furbo, a camera that allows you to shoot treats at your dog while watching him from afar, the Amazon Cloud Cam is not strictly geared toward dog-based spying. It is one of the many cute new options in home surveillance — like the Nest something or other, or the Logitech whatever — that offer varying degrees of scariness and artificial intelligence. This one is not particularly intelligent, as far as I can tell. It can’t tell you specifically which people are passing in front of it, or where in the room they are passing. It can just usually tell you that something is happening somewhere. I was able to set it to turn off when my phone is connected to my Wi-Fi and turn on when my phone isn’t, however, which I enjoy. And that is the end of the tech-review aspect of this.

The case against setting up a security camera to spy on your dog is fairly solid. It’s a crazy thing to do, and your dog is probably fine. You certainly don’t need something else to obsessively check on your phone, and it’s better to not have a camera in your home pointed directly at your bed. Plus, it’s a horribly sad thing to watch your dog do nothing all day. If you’re not spying on him, it’s easy to imagine that your dog is doing something fun — reading a book, watching one of his favorite shows, or at the very least playing a video game. Instead he’s just waiting around for you to come back. It’s painful.

Still, I check the camera obsessively. I also often zoom in on my dog’s belly to make sure the pixels are changing in a way that indicates he is breathing, but that is none of your business. Here are check-ins from a typical day when I was away from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

2:24 p.m.: Here he is lying in his crate. He doesn’t need to go in his crate, but he often goes in there anyway, I assume because it feels safe.

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

3:36 p.m.: Here he is on the bed.

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

3:45 p.m.: Here he is on the bed.

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

4:05 p.m.: Here he is on the bed.

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

5:04 p.m.: Here he is on the bed.

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

6:18 p.m.: Here he is on the bed.

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

6:56 p.m.: Here he is on the bed.

Photo: Kelly Conaboy

It’s not all lying on the bed; though it is absolutely almost all that. Sometimes something else happens. Peter loves to burrow under the covers, for example. This is usually an act I have to aid him in, but he’s recently figured out how to do it himself, sort of, if I don’t make my bed tightly enough before I leave. Here is an exciting drama I got to witness thanks to my Amazon Cloud Cam:

(What happens at the end is that sometimes when he can’t burrow under the comforter, he attempts to burrow into the pillows. It seems that after he abandoned that idea, he decided to burrow under the portion of the comforter that he’d pushed onto the floor.)

Friends with dogs have told me they think having a dog camera would increase their anxiety rather than decrease it. The ability to watch their dog just sitting there waiting for them would cause them pain; having the option of staring into their phone waiting for something to happen would make them crazier and more phone-obsessed than they already are. Yes. These points are true and valid. If you can handle it, stay away. For most people, I do not recommend a dog camera.

However, for the more death-fearing among us — those who almost had to leave a manicure that one time but didn’t because actually they are brave and fine — I have to argue that the camera is soothing. It is wonderful to have solid evidence that, at least for now, at this exact moment, your dog is still breathing. It is wonderful that when stricken with the common pang of panic that something terrible has happened, you can click into an app and see that your dog is alive, if extremely bored. He’s just sitting there, or sleeping. The house is not in flames, a dog burglar is not running away with him. For now, everything is fine.

(But do check back in a few minutes.)

The Case for Buying a Doggy Spy Cam (If You Really Need One)