We all know the joys of owning a pet. The therapeutic benefits of having pets have been well-studied and have proven successful time and again. However, we also know that owning a living, breathing creature comes with the massive responsibilities of caring for it. For people with dementia, mobility, or other issues, being able to care for a pet properly may no longer be possible and can prohibit them from both the pleasure and therapeutic benefits of pet ownership.
As a life-long ‘cat person’, even I roll my eyes at the thought of cleaning another litter box. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a dog or cat that you didn’t have to walk, feed, clean up after, or bathe? Thanks to modern technology and some really smart programmers, the ‘perfect’ pet has been found!
Say hello to – interactive pets! Pop in a few batteries and voila, instant pet! Relatively new to the scene, these advanced-technology cuddly, furry creatures are called ‘companion pets’. They are currently being used extensively in Assisted Living Facilities and other senior communities to provide comfort, companionship, and happiness to those with dementia. These companion pets have numerous features that mimic a living, breathing animal. They realistically open and close their eyes, meow or bark, purr (and even have the purr vibration of real cats), have a heartbeat, a realistic feel to their fur coat, and more. There are also sleeping cats and dogs that have breathing sounds and chests that rise and fall to resemble usual sleep patterns. To save battery life (and much like a real pet), most are motion or voice-activated, and will only respond to touch, movement or words.
All my life I’ve had pets. Even after all us kids left home, my parents continued to have pets. I can’t imagine life without them. When my mother was diagnosed with advancing Alzheimer’s, we had to choose a facility that would keep her safe and healthy in ways we were not qualified to do. And even though many of the ALFs we visited allow pets as part of the residents’ therapy, my mother was no longer able to care for one on her own. As her dementia advanced, she was alone in her own world which we were no longer a part of mentally, and couldn’t be geographical. Recently, during a visit, I came upon my mother in her wheelchair with a cat on her lap. From a distance, it resembled a mortal cat without question. I watched in amazement as my mother tried to feed it and talk to it, with a giant smile on her face. The animated cat was responding to her gestures and voice. While she had no idea that this was not, indeed, a cuddly, temperamental feline with whom we are all familiar, she spent hours stroking its fur, trying to feed it, talking to it, cuddling it!. She was my mom of yesteryears, playing with her cat! I was in awe.
After researching this capacitor-driven innovation, I discovered that these manufactured animals are used with a wide range of people and an almost unlimited number of diagnoses. Not only are these great for people with dementia, but families also buy them for children with autism, for those with anxiety issues, or the elderly with mobility challenges. Indeed, the possibilities are endless.
There are currently only a few companies producing these “pets-with-benefits”. A wide variety of them can be found on Amazon at around $100. Both cats and dogs are available and there are several choices for color, breed, etc. Having seen firsthand the reactions and joy that these little guys give, there is no doubt that this technological pet market is sure to expand and develop giving pleasure, comfort, and activity to many who cannot have the privilege of a conscious pet.