Ben Millam might be the current coolest guy in the cat world. The self-described “aspiring geek” created an epic feline feeding machine that requires his very willing clicker-trained cat, Monkey, to hunt throughout his house for RFID-tagged plastic white balls, placing each one inside a blue bowl sitting atop the machine. The RFID reader within the machine then reads the tag, registering it, and dispensing crunchy cat food into Monkey’s bowl.
“I imagined hiding little bowls of food around the house … then I imagined me actually refilling these bowls,” Millam said of his cat’s dinner routine on his blog. “Then I imagined having to move them around to different hiding spots, spilling, forgetting, and every so often, perhaps only after following a trail of ants, finding one undiscovered and rancid. Hmmm, maybe there’s a way to hide something else, a way to hide something other than food, a way to make something not-food = food … So instead of feeding my cat, I hide these balls around the house.”
Using clicker training, a method based on associating a distinctive click with a desired behavior followed by a reward, Millam was able to inspire Monkey to hunt for his food, so to speak, in an attempt to strengthen his independence, and bring greater fulfillment into his life.
“This all started after I read an explanation of why cats go about repeatedly exploring the same areas: it’s partly to establish and survey their territory, but they’re also practicing ‘mobile’ hunting: moving about, being curious, and poking their noses around in the hopes of upsetting potential prey and finding a meal,” Millam said. “So what if my cat, while out on patrol, actually found its prey? Surely this would bring him one step closer towards a more fulfilled and self-actualized indoor kitty existence.”
Since “Monkey the Cat Hunts for Dinner: Part 1” went viral on YouTube on Aug. 1, the video has received more than 1,741,000 views; inspiring the creation of a “Bloopers” companion video, and motivating viewers to follow in his creative footsteps.