I've been wanting to write about the phenomenon of animal Web cams for several years when I first learned that my good friend Susan was addicted to the sea otter cam at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Every time I would see Susan she would regale me with information about her favorite sea otter, Toola. Toola, who often serves as a surrogate mother to stranded otter pups, doesn't like to be weighed on the scale, she only leans on her right side and grooms her fur with both paws and feet, and she is very shy despite assuming center stage in the exhibit.
Then last week, my friend Amy sent me a link to a Web cam trained on a litter of six Shiba Inu puppies. Initially, it didn't seem to be working, probably because the site was getting inundated with traffic as the link went around the Internet.
A little bit later, Amy e-mails me: "that puppy thing i sent you is LIVE@@@@ and they are going nuts right now!" Sure enough, the dogs were all playing, three of them tugging on the same toy, others play fighting and falling over each other.
Later that night I got a text message from her: "ALL the puppies are sleeping! All of them."
Amy, a busy nursing student, says she keeps the puppy cam playing on her computer in the background so she can hear the sounds of their toenails on the ground, their grunts and growls and the soft rustling of them chewing on and moving around on blankets.
I asked Susan to explain her obsession with Toola and the other sea otters. "I think I find it comforting that no matter what horrible things are going on in the world, the animals follow their own private rhythms," she wrote in an e-mail.
For the puppy fans, the Web cam gives them an escape from larger world issues and from the monotony of their own lives.
"I was feeling a little lost and bored after the election-I really needed a dose of puppy love! Thanks so much for sharing their lives with us...," wrote a viewer named Sarah in a comment on the Ustream.tv blog.
If Shiba Inus or sea otters aren't your thing there are numerous other animal Web cams that might help keep your mind off the economy:
The Smithsonian National Zoological Park has Web cams trained on giant pandas, naked mole rats, orangutans, kiwi and octopi, among other animals.
Africam bills itself as "the world's first virtual game reserve," and offers live "safari" cams. However, the time difference means that what I see during my work day in San Farncisco is dark landscapes. The chirping crickets were nice though.
When I visited the San Diego Zoo animal cam site the apes were active but the polar bears weren't around.
National Geographic's WildCam Africa requires a Real Player plug-in.
American Museum of Natural History has a Live Butterfly Cam.
You can see cats at The Oregon Humane Society's Portland Petcam and dogs at the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
SeaWorld's Shamu Cam offers cool underwater footage.