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New York Times: Toys and Tech for Pets Are Put to the Test
May 04, 2018
The writer and his dog, Barnaby, trying pet products, including Furbo, a device that shoots treats.CreditNicole Bengiveno/The New York Times 

Because I want the best for our dog, I feed him soy- and wheat-free turkey bits rehydrated with turmeric-fortified bone broth and served in a stainless steel and acrylic dining set designed to reduce neck strain.

I test his urine, using an app on my phone, to make sure his bilirubin and nitrite levels are on track. Before taking him for walks in his grosgrain-and-bridle-leather Pendleton National Park Collection collar-leash set, I apply sunscreen to his underparts, lest rays reflecting off the sidewalk burn him where the skin is thinnest. When we return, I may daub his snout with Certified Organic Button Nose Butter.

Because my cat is descended from generations of athletes, I give him high-performance salmon-lentil kibbles from a company that calls itself the Under Armour of pet food. To keep him smart and even fitter, I serve it in a multi-cupped contraption that forces him to fish the bits out with his paws, not just stick his face in the bowl.

At least in the last few days.

When I started writing the Pet City column in January, I found myself besieged with greetings from new friends in an industry that works round the clock to find solutions to pet problems I never knew existed.

Did I want to check out the world’s first treat-tossing camera or celebrate National Pet Month with foie gras dog biscuits from a Michelin-starred chef? I did not.

The pitches did not stop.

Then I thought, Why not say yes?

“This Startup Has Made the First-ever ‘Smart’ Pet Urine Cup & iPhone Health Analyzer!” Send me one!

A chastity belt for dogs? Please, yes.

Then I got invited to a Petrepreneurs’ Home & Garden Pet Product Showcase.

All that is how, in the interest of service to readers, I ended up with a small pet store’s worth of merchandise, which I spent several days having Barnaby the basset and Sonny the ginger tomcat test-drive.

One recent evening, we invited Barnaby’s neighbor Boone the basset over for a product party. Boone’s owner, Mike Lipton, was drawn to the Pura Natural Pets Ear-Cleansing System. The insides of bassets’ ears are biological reserves worthy of protection by the United Nations. The Pura-Tip swabs are made from plant-based foam, and they are reusable — just rinse in hot water. Mostly, they are really big. “With a Q-tip, I usually worry about losing it in there,” Mike said.

He cleaned Boone’s ear. An amazing amount of stuff came out on the swab. “This is something I would actually go out of my way to buy,” Mike said.

Then we fired up the Furbo, a device that allows you to toss treats to your dogs and watch them eat, all from the comfort of somewhere other than the place where your dogs are.

It is a stand-up device with a reservoir that you stock with treats and a camera mounted on the front. You open the app on your phone and press the treat icon, and the Furbo makes a cartoon “speeeowwnn” sound and shoots a piece of food.

We stepped into the next room and began launching. Boone immediately figured out how to knock the unit over and get at the treats. We set it up on something higher. Barnaby, a simple soul whose idea of a good time usually involves little more than staring at the toilet or licking a wall, seemed lost.

After a few more tries, Barnaby figured out what was happening. He got excited and started barking his head off. Furbo flashed me a message: “Your dog is barking. Would you like to see how he is doing?” Then he peed all over his new senior-pet Wellness Mat, an anti-fatigue resting spot made with Advanced Polyurethane Technology. I imagined being at the office and watching this unfold on my phone screen and not being able to do anything about it.

A few days later, it was Sonny’s turn. He is notoriously difficult to impress, but I had high hopes for the Catit Flower Fountain. It provides continuous fresh, filtered water that runs from the petals of a plastic flower, features “whisker stress-free design” and has three settings — Gentle Flow, Bubbling Top and Calm Streams. Cats love fresh water: It’s why Sonny likes to drink from the toilet.

Sonny cautiously approached the fountain, which makes a pleasing trickling sound. He looked at it for several seconds and walked away.

Barnaby, on the other hand, loves it. (Also popular in my household: Epi-Pet Omega 3-6-9 dried anchovies, Loving Pets Natural Value chicken tenders, Nulo Medal Series salmon and lentils adult cat food. The Barks & Kisses Ashford Collection pet feeder looks nice on our kitchen floor with its bold, swooping curves and contemporary silhouette.)

The pet product showcase, at a hotel on the East Side, was organized by Charlotte Reed, who describes herself as a “petrendologist.” She strives to help people have better relationships with their pets.

One way to do that, Ms. Reed said, is for pets and their keepers to share products. Ms. Reed said she uses Epi-Pet ear cleaner to remove greasy makeup after television appearances.

“It just cuts it right off my face, and it heals the skin, so when I use this, it doesn’t sting at all,” she said. “I think more people want to have that experience: If it’s good for you, then it’s good for your pet; it’s good for your pet, why shouldn’t it be good for you?”

Which brings us, somehow, to the dog chastity belt, formally known as the Pet Anti-Breeding System. (“Stop it! Block it! Lock it!” says the flier.) If you want to delay spaying your dog for any reason, the belt lets her “still be a pet while being fully protected.”

Unfortunately, I could not find any dogs in heat to give it a real tryout. But Danielle Ettkins, who runs the Green Pup store in Gowanus, Brooklyn, agreed to let Cleo, her 5-month-old Goldendoodle, try it on. A fishnet triangle connected with an eight-point buckle system and a collar in the front, the belt like a piece of light bondage gear. Cleo did not seem to mind wearing it. Ms. Ettkins inspected.

“It certainly blocks the vulva,” she said. “I would have to see it in action.”

For Cleo, that opportunity is still several weeks off. So if you have a dog about to go into heat and would like to try out the belt, shoot me an email at petcity@nytimes.com.

No marketing pitches, please.

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