This article appeared as "For All the Lonely Dogs" in the Fall 2022 issue of Independent School.
Cassidy Matwiyoff wanted to invent something. An idea came to the recent Academy of Our Lady of Peace School (CA) graduate one day when she and her family were leaving the house and had to leave their long-haired chihuahua, Hallie, home alone.
“She is so sad and scared when she is alone, and I know how much she likes being pet, so it occurred to me that perhaps there’s a way to pet a dog when its owners can’t,” Matwiyoff says. “[Animals’] concept of time is so different, so when we are away it can seem like a very long time.”
Her solution: an automatic dog-petting machine. Many products on the market for lonely dogs feature automated treat dispensers along with cameras and speakers so owners can communicate with their pets. But “dogs prefer petting over praise, and it seemed like it would be a good solution for them when they are alone,” she says. “But I needed to find out if the dogs would respond to a non-human hand.”
So Matwiyoff spent more than four years developing an adjustable petting “hand” to fit various-sized dogs, which involved working on the electronics, timing, and programming for the hand’s four motors. She sought input from college engineering students, got help from professional engineers and patent attorneys, and tested her robot with dogs at a local animal shelter. (They loved it.) She now has a working prototype for her invention, which includes a camera to sense a dog’s presence and a treat dispenser to gain the dog’s interest.
She’s now looking for investors, including, she hopes, on the TV show Shark Tank, where she’s begun introductory steps to qualify for the show. And she’s still refining the dog-petter. “The acceleration and deceleration are still a little jerky, and that needs to be refined in the coding,” she says.
Matwiyoff, who is starting at the University of Alabama this fall, credits her mom, an entrepreneur and businesswoman, with instilling in her the “passion and feeling of empowerment” to undertake the work the project required. “I learned that if you have an idea you should run with it. No one is going to stop you but yourself, and you should follow your dreams.”
Cassidy Matwiyoff designed and tested an automatic dog-petting machine, with the help of her long-haired chihuahua, Hallie.
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