How to Spend Time With Animals (When you Don’t Live With Them)

By Karin Krisher

I don’t have a dog. I also don’t have a cat. And I desperately want both. I want the companionship, the responsibility, the love. Circumstances being what they are, I can’t have a pet right now. But that doesn’t mean I can’t spend time with animals.

For people that need a little puppy (or kitty!) love, there are options. I highly suggest taking advantage of these awesome ideas—and making both your own and an animal’s day a little brighter.

One companionship craze has swept Japan under its paw in recent years. While those of us who live in Western cultures might have to wait a while for this development, those traveling to or living in Japan should definitely check it out.

Over 150 cat cafes have opened in the last decade. One to two dozen cats play and sleep freely and patrons sip warm drinks while relaxing with their companions—all for an hourly charge. There are strict rules, including one about waking sleeping kitties and one about publicly displaying animals after 8 pm.

An American company has taken its cue from Japan’s cat cafes, offering consumers a personal experience with cats and dogs—with a twist. iPet Companion is a “virtual playroom” that allows people all over the world to toy with shelter cats via webcam and digitally controlled toys and tools.

Despite the fact that you can’t feel their warm furry coats, you can still control the environment from afar so that you can get a good sense of what your relationship to the potential adoptee could become. (Or, if you’re just looking to play, you can still get the personal contact you’re craving!)

For dog lovers who want close contact, signing up to be a dog walker at a local shelter is always a great option. Dogs in shelters get some exercise, but there’s never enough freedom to be had when you’re not in your permanent home. To find a shelter that will allow you to walk its residents, enter your zip code at Petfinder or Pets 911 and contact the nearest result to find out what paperwork and training may be required. You can do this with cats, too, though the activities usually vary.

If you have any of these opportunities, tell your friends who can have pets about them. Getting a human companion in on the fun can encourage adoptions (giving you another option for spending time with pets)!

What other great programs do you know of that allow humans to spend time with animals? Tell us about them in a comment—we’re always looking for new ideas!