Caroline Paul and her partner, the illustrator (and friend of Gizmodo) Wendy MacNaughton, were devastated when their beloved tabby cat Tibia disappeared from their San Francisco home. It was utterly out of character for the timid Tibby to venture far, especially for over a month's time. Pet psychics were consulted. Fliers were drawn up, posted and passed around. Regular searches were conducted across the neighborhood. It was beginning to seem like Tibby was gone for good. Then, just as casually as he'd gone, Tibby returned.
But where had he been? He didn't look particularly gaunt at all; he'd clearly been receiving regular meals. But from whom? And where?
Jilted, jealous, confused and confounded, Caroline and Wendy sought to find out just where Tibby was sneaking off to, and what he was doing so far from home.
So, like overprotective parents everywhere, they turned to GPS technology to monitor their beloved's activity. And cat cameras, because those exist.
What did they find? Well, you'll have to read the book to find out. Lost Cat is out today, from Bloomsbury Press. And we spoke with its creators to get a little more scoop.
Giz: Have you ever turned to technology to monitor a loved one before?
Wendy MacNaughton: Would I admit it if I had?
My partner/co-author Caroline and I did once use a surveillance cam to monitor the tree outside our home in San Francisco. It was getting pooped on by dogs and the owners weren't cleaning up after them. So we trained a drop-cam on the tree (a drop cam is a motion activated camera whose feed you can watch your smart phone), and we posted a sign that said "THIS TREE IS UNDER SURVEILLANCE. WE PROSECUTE POOPERS." We haven't had much trouble since.
Giz:What should someone interested in investing in a pet-tracking device know?
WM:Pet trackers have come a long way since Caroline researched them to track Tibby (the star of Lost Cat.) Now you can get small, durable, lightweight trackers online easily.
But we suggest people make sure that whatever device they purchase be small enough not to dunk into water when your pet goes to drink. Also, what you find out may be shocking. We were surprised that our seemingly lazy, homebody cat roamed as far as he did. But we've heard other people have been mortified as they watch footage of their precious little kitty rip apart a song bird, close-up.
Ask yourself the same question a private eye would ask you, "Do you really want to know where he's going?" If the answer is yes, we've selected a few trackers and camera we think are good and listed them on our website: LostCatBook.com
Giz:What was the most surprising device you came across in your GPS research?
WM: We were talking to everyone's favorite crazy cat lady, Atlantic editor Alexis Madrigal, about following our cat and he showed us what he and his wife Sarah Rich had gotten to surveil their cat Sparrow: a small drone you can control with your smartphone. Caroline bought one. I don't think she's managed to get it to fly straight yet, let alone stealth-stalk our cats, but she's working on it.