NEW YORK — The footage is grainy, randomly framed.
A pit bull on New York’s Upper West Side noses open a refrigerator door. A Pomeranian obsessively rearranges her bedding. A rabbit in Brooklyn waits for his nightly bowl of oats. A bulldog in the East Village makes passionate love to a pillow.
All the while, as the animals go about their business, the cameras roll.
This summer’s hit movie “The Secret Life of Pets,” set in a computer-animated New York City, offers fantastical answers to the age-old question: What do Fido and Fluffy do when we’re not around? In the film, they listen to heavy metal, massage themselves with eggbeaters, throw noisy parties, hijack animal-control trucks and tumble down gang-infested sewers.
But in real life in the post-privacy age, there is no need to wonder. There are cameras — nanny cams, pet cams, indoor home-security systems — streaming countless pet-hours of empirical data each day across the screens of gadget-happy New Yorkers.
So what do these animals do, cooped up in empty apartments?
They sleep, a lot. Even when awake, they spend a lot of time just waiting around, especially if they’re dogs.
“What they’re not ever doing is exactly what ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ is about, which is that they have independent lives that they resume when you leave,” said Alexandra Horowitz, director of the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College. “This is not when they come into themselves. It is when they’re waiting for the person to return so they can resume normal programming.”
Yet in those hours of suspended animation, there are moments when life puts itself on display.
In a brief YouTube video called “Home alone,” a Manhattan Labradoodle puppy named Kody knocks a roll of paper towels off a dresser, studies it, rolls it with a paw and begins to chew it to shreds: Project sought, project found.
People — largely people with digitally oriented desk jobs, it seems — train surveillance cameras on their pets for a number of reasons. Because they want to make sure the dog walker shows up. Because they miss their companion or feel a little guilty about leaving it home all day. Or just because they can.
“It’s like white noise — I just have it on in the background,” said Dave Stangle, 31, an advertising director for the dog product and entertainment company Bark & Co., and owner of Frank, the pillow-loving bulldog. “It just provides peace of mind that when you’re not there, the dog is just walking around or sleeping.”
Jo Victor has noticed that her chocolate lab, Mista Pikle Butt (pronounced like pickle butt), is “basically like a human when I’m gone.”
“He just kind of walks around, sits on the couch, watches TV, gets up,” said Victor, the service coordinator for Swifto, the dog-walking site. She leaves the television tuned to the Food Network for him.
Others, like Kevin Dresser, find the sight of a bored animal disconcerting. Dresser, a pet-reality TV pioneer, ran a popular webcam called Bklyn Bunny starring Roebling, a white buck with a stylish black eyepatch, from 2005 until Roebling’s death last year.
“When we would be out to dinner with friends or somewhere traveling around the city and we would check in, it would be nice to know that he was there,” Dresser, a graphic designer, said. “But sometimes it would make you a little sad because you think, ‘I should be at home with him.’” Especially around Oaty Time.
“At 10 o’clock every night, we would give Roebling a bowl of oats,” Dresser said. “So around 10 o’clock he would go sit by his oat dish and wait. If we weren’t home, we would get emails from people, ‘Hey, looks like Roebling is ready for his oats.’”
“These camera companies talk about how great it is to be able to see your dog while you’re at work, but there is some kind of gloominess about it,” he said. “There’s your dog, sitting in the corner, and no one’s at home with him.”
Horowitz, the dog scientist whose new book, “Being a Dog,” will be published in the fall, concurred. A dog left alone may sleep all day, she said, “but that’s from lack of stimulation, not from need to sleep.”
“Think of any working dog who is given anything to do,” she said. “They are walking around pursuing whatever they’re doing for a full day, and they don’t need to take four-hour naps. It’s just that these dogs don’t have a job.”
She got a second dog in part to keep her first dog company. Her finding: “Our two dogs spent a truly impressive amount of time asleep rump-to-rump on the sofa.”
Pet cams occasionally transmit important news. Kody’s owner, Katelyn Lesse, once checked in on him just in time to see him raiding a container of allergy pills. “I ran home and rushed him to the vet,” Lesse, 23, a software engineer, said. (He had eaten three or four but was fine.)
Dan Graziano learned a useful fact about his young goldendoodle, Theo: He poops on the floor, then eats it. “Of course when I get home, he wants to lick my face,” said Graziano, 27, an associate editor at CNET who lives on the Upper East Side. “I’m like, ‘No, I know what you did today.’ I’ll take a pass on the face-licking on those days.”
Sometimes the camera offers a disconcerting glimpse. Andy P. Smith’s terrier mutt, Luigi, goes to a doggy day care with a webcam. “Every time we check it,” said Smith, a 34-year-old writer who lives in Brooklyn, “he’s sitting off by himself, in a big room with 40 other dogs playing and having a good time around him. He’s like the weird kid at the playground.”
Sometimes, it solves a mystery.
One evening, Lesse found shirts and underwear strewed across the bedroom floor. “I was like, ‘How did this happen?’ So I rewound the video and there was one tiny corner of a shirt sticking out of the drawer. Kody grabbed onto the shirt and the drawer opened and he got at everything inside.”
Lydia DesRoche, a Broadway animal trainer, got a camera to watch her pit bull, Red, after he got into a cabinet and ate a box of Kind bars. One day, she arrived to walk him and found the refrigerator door wide open. The remains of some fancy dog food lay on the couch. A pan of paella had been ravaged. Rewind, and there was Red, pushing the door open with his snout, then heading for the couch with a prize in his mouth. “He has no shame,” she said.
Red has a kindred spirit in Banjo, a terrier mix, who has spent six years raiding the fridge of his owner, Garland Harwood, a publicist for Bark & Co. Harwood has yet to catch Banjo in the act, but he has assembled an impressive array of crime scene photos.
And then there are those times when seeing your pet’s secret life only deepens the mystery.
One day, Richard Blakeley, a digital product director, got a motion alert on his phone. He tuned in to witness a 2-minute outburst that he posted on YouTube under the title “Richard Blakeley has a dog named Bagel that goes crazy.”
Action: Bagel jumps on the couch and digs frantically between the cushions. She growls. Then she freezes. She leaps as if chasing prey. She runs from one end of the couch to the other, over and over. She barks and yips. She digs furiously. Finally she bounds onto a chair and out of view.
“I just couldn’t believe that was my dog, because she’s never like that,” Blakeley said. “She’s a pretty timid dog.”
Lindsay Kaplan, Blakeley’s wife, has a theory about what Bagel gets up to when she thinks no one is watching:
“She has an imaginary squirrel.”