MINNEAPOLIS (KGO) --We love our pets, often as much as the human members of our families. In fact, one industry group estimates Americans this year will spend more than $58 billion caring for their animals.
But what about the guilt when a pet is left home alone? Whether you're at work or out with friends, do you ever wonder what they're up to? Or if they miss you, too?
Braden Kroll's father, Dr. Mark Kroll, a medical device inventor, inspired a new product that could clear your conscience. His claim: The device will help you connect with your pet like never before - even let you reward it for good behavior!
"My dad was Skyping with my sister and the family dog came running into the room because she recognized Molly's voice," said Braden. "He thought, 'well, what can I do about this? There's got to be something I can make out of this experience.'"
So, Braden and his business partner Lisa Lavin came up with "PetChatz." The device allows you to call your pet from anywhere in the world, as long as you have a phone, tablet or computer.
"I leave my dog home alone during the day, I worry about her. I know she's bored, I know she misses me. I miss her," said Lisa. "There's no way to give her stimulation, so I love the ability to be able to call her in the middle of the day, check in, give her a little bit of stimulation, maybe make her sit or do a few tricks and give her a couple of treats and, oh, by the way, I can also record it, because she did this really cute thing, and I can share it with my friends on Facebook or YouTube."
Think of it as a Skyping with your dog. You connect with the device, mount it at your pet's eye level at home. A ringtone alerts them, and then you can interact with each other on screen. And to reward your four-legged family member, you can push a button to dispense a treat.
"It is just a missing link and a missing peace of mind between pet parents and their pets when they're gone all day," said Braden. "It really helps benefit the pet parent as much as the pet."
It's not only about allowing your dog to see you and hear you, and even dispense treats. You can also use a scent pad and give them a sense of smell, from aroma therapies, to your own scent.
"The fan blows the scent out, and it's an associative response, so that your pet learns when they smell that scent, they know that this is the fun experience," said Lisa.
Jody Karrow is a dog behavior consultant. She owns a Shih Tzu named Buddha, and says it's possible a device like "PetChatz" can train your dog throughout the day.
"Dogs are the most social being out there, besides humans, so they love connecting as much as possible," said Karrow.
Bradens's Burmese mountain dog, Lancer, knows a familiar voice, face and treat are coming when he hears the ringtone.
"My dog thought it was weird at first, but then he started lying next to it instead of the front door," said Braden.
But beyond four-legged animals, these entrepreneurs hope to connect people through technology, evolving the treat dispenser into a medication dispenser for the elderly or developmentally disabled.
"We are really excited about the medication management piece of this down the road," said Braden.
"PetChatz" will be available for about $350 dollars in select pet stores and online by early summer. For more information, visit www.petchatz.com.