FaceTiming pets when you’re away

Whenever Mrs. Lite and I are away from the house for more than a week at a time, our cat Ginger tends to get lonely and a little sad.  We have a pet sitter who comes by the house regularly to check in on her, but it still takes the kitty a couple of days to adjust back to her normal personality if we’ve been gone for a significant period of time.

In order to alleviate some of this effect, I did some research to see if there was any way to communicate with the cat when we’re on vacation.  I happen to have an extra iPhone 5S from back in the day that still works perfectly fine, but in 2018 is not worth very much on the re-sale market, so I kept it as a backup phone which came in handy earlier this year when I sent in my current phone for a battery replacement and was without it for a week.  I thought to myself:  how great would it be if I could set up the phone so I could video-call the cat and at least let her hear our voices to provide some reassurance.  The main problem with this, of course, is figuring out a way for Ginger to answer the phone to connect the call.

After a little trial and error, I figured out how to do this, and it worked surprisingly well.  

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 iPhones.  One of these preferably an old used one that you don’t care much about if your pet knocks it over.  The one I used is an iPhone 5S with the latest software.
  • A tripod or some other rig to keep the phone standing upright.  I have a small one that folds up compact to around 3 inches that I bought off Amazon several years back.  Any small phone tripod will do.
  • A charger & cord so the phone doesn’t run out of juice.  You can either keep it plugged in and on all the time or attach it to an automatic timer like I did.
  • A kitty or pup nearby to use the above contraption

Now here’s how to set up the phone to make all this work:

  • First off, on your old phone, you’ll need to set up a unique Apple ID and email address for your pet.  Google this if you don’t know how to do it.  It can all be done on your phone and is pretty straightforward.  I have several extra email addresses I don’t use often, so I assigned one of those to the cat.  Your old phone does not need a SIM card since we will be doing everything over Wifi.
  • On the spare iPhone that you’ll be leaving at home with the pet, go into the Settings menu. 
  • Scroll down a little bit and go into General. 
  • Halfway down the screen, go into Accessibility. 
  • Most of the way down the screen, you’ll see an option called Call Audio Routing.  Go into that menu.  The very last option should say Auto-Answer Calls.  It’s set to Off by default.  Switch that option to On.  Another option will come up indicating a time length to wait until the call is auto answered.  I set mine to 5 seconds so the phone would ring a few times before connecting, but it doesn’t really matter; put it on whatever you want.

So now the phone is set up to answer calls automatically without any human/feline/canine/pot-bellied-porcine input on the receiving side.  Excellent.

Let’s test it out.  Open up FaceTime on your own phone and FaceTime your pet using her unique email address that you set up earlier.  The pet’s phone should ring for a few seconds and then connect automatically.  When you’re done with your call, just hang up and the pet’s phone’s screen will eventually turn off automatically.

One other thing you’ll want to do with your setup is find a way to secure your tripod so your furry friend doesn’t get excited and knock it over.  I taped my tripod legs using several long strips of duct tape and attached it to a large flat plastic lid (the ones that come with the big rubbermaid storage containers).

As ridiculous as this may sound, it worked very well during our most recent vacation to Egypt.  When we got back home, the cat didn’t seem nearly as depressed and even the pet sitter’s visit notes didn’t make any mention of Ginger acting particularly sad.

So if you’ve got a pet that starts to miss its humans after a certain amount of time, give this a try.  I’m unsure how well this would work with every pet, but it seemed to have a positive effect on ours.

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