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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017 1 year ago

Village on the Green residents find comfort in robotic pets

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Residents at the Village on the Green in Longwood have some special furry friends, giving them a sense of mutual love and social interaction.
by: Tim Freed Associate Editor

There’s something special about Longwood resident Katherine “Kitty” Alexander’s cat. 

He meows, purrs and grooms himself — but doesn’t need to be fed or use a litter box.

All he needs is a set of batteries.

Robotic pets are giving 32 residents at the Village on the Green retirement community a sense of companionship and social interaction.

But these aren’t stuffed animals. Rather, they are responsive pets from Hasbro that respond to both sound and touch, mimicking the sounds and movements of real cats and dogs. They blink, they bark (or meow), they groom themselves, they roll over and they’ve all even been named by their owners, who cherish them as furry companions.

“He’s beautiful,” said Alexander, holding her gray cat, Pusskitten, in her lap.  “He makes a lot of noise; he meows a lot. I believe he would sing (if he could).”

The 32 friendly pets were purchased through the Lifespace Foundation, tied to Village on the Green’s parent company, Lifespace Communities. Each pet goes to a long-term care resident living in the Village on the Green Health Center. 

The shipment of 32 cats and dogs came in three months ago, and they’ve been a huge hit ever since.

“It’s made a difference in the lives of our seniors in our communities,” Lifespace Communities Senior Vice President of Operations Ann Walsh said. “We’re targeting our residents (who) are memory-impaired or working through dementia or Alzheimer’s. This provides stimulation to those residents. We also like to say that we lead from the heart — there is an actual connection to these robotic pets, similar to what they’ve had in the past. They’re able to interact with them, respond to them, and there’s a feeling of love.”

Walsh said the pets have become so popular that independent residents living in the villas nearby want them as well.

“Our residents reacted strongly in favor of this,” Walsh said. “It was very quick that the numbers multiplied in our communities.”

People, such as Health Center Administrator Gail Wattley, see the benefits of the pets every day. She said she’s never seen something so effective at giving residents a sense of love and social interaction.

“I’ve been here 11 years, and I’ve seen a lot of different programs over the course of my tenure here, but I’ve never seen anything as effective as these robotic pets,” Wattley said. “It helps our residents to be in the moment. There’s something about them having ownership of their own pet that just makes them come alive. They express so much love to them.”

Some of Village on the Greens’ activities have been focused solely on the robotic pets. One day residents were given bows and bracelets to accessorize their cats and dogs.

Walsh said for residents coping with memory loss and dementia, it’s about the here and now. All they need is something similar to a pet from years ago to trigger those powerful feelings of owning a cat or a dog.

Social interaction is critical to the health of their senior residents, she said.

“We’ve been providing care for seniors for (more than) 40 years, and we know that socialization and becoming isolated can be an indicator of a decline in health,” Walsh said. “Anything that we can stimulate — emotions, social, love — I think this is really a display of a two-way loving relationship with the animal and the resident. We’re making their lives better. We’re making their day fulfilled, and hopefully (they’re) living a more enriched life.”

Tim Freed is an Associate Editor with the Winter Park/Maitland Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.

See All Articles by Tim

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