That impressive vocal ability was just part of what I learned about my newly adopted pup, Nymeria (aka “Meerie”), as I watched her, pacing and barking non-stop, from a dog nanny cam live feed on my phone, while I sat in my office, miles away.
I was heartbroken.
I thought she was adjusting, doing fine! But a livestreamed feed showed me that her adorable affection while I was around translated to separation anxiety when I wasn’t. On the live feed, I had to watch her clearly suffering, or at best bored, and there was not much I could do about it.
Meerie is a 4-year-old medium-sized mutt who I adopted the weekend before Thanksgiving. She came to me from a dog rescue, after she was surrendered by previous owners to a shelter (SOB).
She was instantly loving and cuddly and fun, but I was a bit nervous about how she was doing on her own when I went to work. She wasn’t acting out or anything, but I still wanted some assurances that my new pooch was happy.
So one week after adopting Meerie, I ordered a Furbo dog camera so I could keep tabs on her whenever when I was in the office, or even just out to dinner, ya know, having a life.
Furbo is a dog camera that looks more like a white minimalist vase. Its camera captures a fishbowl view of whatever room it’s in, it has a speaker, and it shoots treats housed inside the Furbo out to your pooch. Through the intuitive Furbo app, I can livestream a video (with sound!) of my living room, as well as talk to my dog by speaking into my phone, and I can launch snacks by pressing a treat-shaped button.
You can also get alerts when your dog barks, or pay extra for a “virtual dog nanny” that helps keep tabs on them, and prepares a video of clips from your dog’s day. Ordinarily, it’s pricey — it usually goes for $249. But I made it my one Black Friday purchase while it was on sale for $114.
Cameras that keep track of your baby or animal are nothing new. But pet-specific cameras are enjoying something of a boom: according to Wired, the pet-cam industry is expected to grow 26 percent through 2021. And according to Geekwire, sales of Furbo in particular skyrocketed by 20X in the 36 hours after Ellen DeGeneres included it in her 12 Days of Giveaways holiday special.
After purchasing one, I quickly learned that, as a dog parent, ignorance might have been bliss.
Where I thought my new dog was adjusting to her life with me just fine, she was actually spending a good chunk of the day wracked with anxiety. I could toss her a treat through Furbo, but she was too anxious to eat it. I spoke through the Furbo, but that just confused her, and made her sit by the door, expecting me to come through it.
It occurred to me that the Furbo was, perhaps, overkill. Knowing that she was miserable wouldn’t shorten the time it would take for her to adjust. But I also wondered, was not knowing how my pet was really doing irresponsible?
After seeing how Meerie was coping with alone time, I left her challenging toys full of treats for her to play with; they went ignored. I expanded the amount of the house she could go into, since she hated getting put in a back room; that just gave her a larger pacing area. I closed the blinds so the goings-on outside wouldn’t stress her out; no effect. I played NPR for her; no change.
The only thing that made her calmer and quieter while alone? The passage of time, as she learns, slowly, that I will always come home.
Furbo turned me, in part, into a helicopter mom, worrying and searching for increasingly ridiculous ways to soothe my pup, responding to a situation that’s perhaps out of my control. But it’s also maybe turned me into a better dog mom, more in tune with the internal life of my previously shelter-bound pet as she settles into a life that’s entirely new. I know how much it means to her when I come. I know that skipping the gym in favor of getting home an hour earlier is an annoyance for me, but means a lot to her.
To me, this sort of fretting and attention — about whether and how to soothe her, and the meta-question, of whether I should care about soothing her at all — still feels silly, at least in part. She’s a dog, right? She literally eats her own poop sometimes. She’ll be fine, whether I’m watching her or not. She’ll still lick me and jump and play and nap, whether I’m reflecting on my technological dog parenting choices, or merely capitalizing on a good Amazon deal.
But testing out parenthood on my licky, furry little beast has also inspired me to wonder about, and test drive, what kind of parent I really want to be.
I fear eventually becoming a helicopter parent, the accusatory term levied on my parents’ generation and my own, because it reportedly produced us grit-less millennials. And because being too anxious about your kid or pet kinda makes it seem like you have no life of your own.
But today, there are more mommy blogs and baby trackers than ever before. And if I don’t use these high-tech tools on my hypothetical future human child, is that the negligent digital equivalent of just letting them play in the dirt?
As with most reasonable conclusions, my best guess is that my parental attitude, and how that translates to my use of technology to monitor my child (furry for now), lies in the middle of the two extremes. Since I can’t always be with my pooch, I like the ability to know how my dog is doing — when I want to — and make relatively easy changes to my own behavior in response. But I’ve turned off the barking notifications, and won’t be paying for any of Furbo’s supplemental services. In other words, I’ll use technology, but won’t obsess over it, or let it take over my life.
That’s the decision I’ve made for Meerie and me. But I recognize that all of these challenges and micro-decisions get ratcheted way, way up when faced with a real, human baby. There are endless debates on parenting blogs about whether to nanny cam, or not to nanny cam. Whether to do data entry, or respond to your child’s needs the old fashioned way. Whether to give your kid an iPad, and if so, how much screen time is allowed? The number of questions about the intersection of tech and childrearing is already dizzying, and right now, I’m just standing on the sidelines. Frankly, facing down these questions makes me terrified to have kids in the digital age at all.
But perhaps, becoming familiar with my “parenting” attitude ahead of time can help guide me as the questions and stakes become bigger in the future. I don’t think I’m capable of a totally laissez-faire approach, at least when it comes to Meerie. But I would like to trust that her growth and confidence will come, naturally. Seeing that process in real time through the Furbo app — as Meerie spends less time barking, starts going after her treats, and even sits down on the couch sometimes — is reassuring me that things are, and will continue to go fine — whether I’m watching or not.
At this point, I want a front seat to Meerie settling into her new home. So, despite the helicopter worrying, I’ll still be logging onto Furbo. Sometimes.