If you ask me about my cat, I will bring her up in every future conversation we’ll ever have. Speaking of, I’m so glad you asked. Pepper is a 7-year-old tabby who (like the rest of us) has developed an insatiable snacking habit during the past year.
Since the pandemic started, she’s gotten accustomed to having me around 24/7. Refusing to maintain social distance guidelines, she stares from a pounce away at the foot of my desk, the sofa armrest, and the end of my bed. There’s also been a marked change in the passive-aggressive (or aggressive-aggressive) tactics Pepper uses to get fed—especially at 2:30 a.m. Multiple cracked phone screens, shattered water glasses, and sleepless nights led to a level of mutual frustration some might call unpleasant. I know if I feed her before bed, she’ll still come for her second reckoning in the wee hours. So I succumbed to her collateral damage, feeding her on demand, until we developed a level of conditioned codependency that was wrecking my sleep.
Luckily, a few months ago I came across the Feeder-Robot, an espresso-machine-size automated cat food dispenser that links up with your home wireless network and holds 32 cups of peace-keeping kibble. The electronic feeder can be scheduled to release 1/4 cup of food throughout the day or refill the bowl as needed for grazing. And most importantly, the accompanying app allows for you to dispense a service with a tap—even at 2 a.m. This high-tech gadget that I might have previously written off as a silly investment has rescued my relationship with my cat—and my sleep schedule by making feeding as easy as clicking a button.
The feeder comes from the makers at Litter-Robot—a Michigan-based company best known for their smart, pod-shaped, self-scooping litter boxes. Their collection of cat tech extends to lo-fi options, such as squishy beds, flights of buds and flower catnip, and design-minded scratching posts. While some pet companies design based on the completely unpredictable preferences of your cat, Litter-Robot takes a sensible approach: cat products that make owners’ lives easier.
My Feeder-Robot, or as I’ve named it on my app, Pepper Bot, is scheduled to release 1/4 cup of food twice daily: once around noon, and then again around 2 a.m. There are times when we’re both feeling a bit down, and that increases to thrice daily, but I monitor Pepper’s daily, weekly, and monthly food intake via the accompanying app. This is new to our household—where my partner and I would previously both feed her breakfast when we woke up, like ships in the night, two hours apart. She kept the ruse up for about a year until we saw the Healthy Cat Body Size Chart in our vet’s office and recognized her as more of a curvy 4 than a slender 2. We are not a body-shaming household, but I know cats who err toward thicc can have a multitude of health complications down the road.
The bot sends me a push each time food is dispensed. A small light on the top of the device will change color when food is running low, but the app will inform me of that as well. I’m not going anywhere lately, but when I do, I’m happy to know I can send her a meal if I find I’m running late. And even if my internet goes down, Feeder-Robot has a 24-hour battery-powered backup and program memory, so food will still be dispensed on schedule. If your phone’s not nearby, 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 along swimmingly. The bot itself was easy enough to set up and was ready almost right out of the box. The iOS (and Android) app is straightforward and intuitive. Pepper, shockingly, wasted no time getting accustomed to her new electronic best friend that dispensed food on demand.
The feeder is a little big—I had to set it up in my living room, because it was cumbersome in a small city kitchen. While it’s sleek and inoffensive, there’s no hiding that it’s a glowing tub of cat food. And there’s the price: $249 is also a far cry from the $10 I spent on her silicone puzzle feeder. It’s certainly an investment, but I try to think of all the times I have paid our petsitter during a 24-hour trip away or the anxiety I feel when I suddenly realize I won’t be home until late. One other unexpected problem: Pepper now sees every time I pick up my phone as an opportunity to be fed. She has made multiple attempts to jailbreak my phone. In fact, she’s curbed my habit of mindlessly scrolling during the workday.
But maybe that’s not a complaint after all.