Robotic therapy pet visits Valley Park Manor

Published 9:30 am Saturday, March 2, 2024

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VALLEY — A new friend arrived at Valley Park Manor this week, and the residents have really taken to him. A robotic therapy pet has joined another one already at the local assisted living facility. There’s now a Golden Retriever-like puppy and a orange and white tabby cat that are bringing joy, comfort, companionship and fun, to Valley Park Manor residents, especially those with Alzheimer’s and dementia

These Joy for All companion pets can bring joy to people of all ages. Each one has realistic fur and can make pet-like sounds. They are very much like a real cat or dog but without fleas, no need to have a litter box or to clean up after him and no need to ever take them to the vet.

Ellen Hurst, senior project manager for Alabama Cares, brought the now-treasured orange tabby to the Valley on Tuesday. He joins the Golden Retriever that was already at Valley Park Manor. Joy for All also makes a singing. There’s either a Cardinal or Bluebird that’s equipped with a magnet so it can sit on a walker and entertain the senior who’s getting about in the center.

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Hurst explains that each robotic pet has a microchip in it and is operated by a single type D battery.  “Its behavior is based on how you interact with it,” she said. “If you pet the cat it will meow and purr just like a real cat. It can fall asleep in your lap, and it can roll over on its back like a real cat. The dog will bark and if you put your ear up to it you can hear its heartbeat.”

Hurst has two robot pets at home, a dog named Fred and a cat named Ginger. They are loved by the entire family.

The main thing is to get them out to seniors. Thus far, she has distributed more than three dozen of them to seniors in the ten-county area covered by the East Alabama Regional Planning & Development Commission. In addition to Chambers County, the EARPDC also includes Tallapoosa, Coosa, Talladega, Clay, Randolph, Calhoun, Cleburne, Etowah and Cherokee counties.

The reaction is pretty much the same anytime a nursing home or assisted living resident holds a robotic pet. It’s one of extreme joy. “I will never forget the way one man responded to it,” Hurst said. “He was so happy he cried. This program is near and dear to my heart. I just love getting out and giving them to seniors, especially those with Alzheimer’s or dementia.”

The Area on the Aging and the Alabama Department of Senior Services are jointly involved in administering the Alabama CARES program. ADSS Board Chairman Ray Edwards was there to greet Hurst as she arrived on Tuesday afternoon. Edwards’ wife Jackie is a Valley Park Manor resident. She has one of the robot dogs and really loves it.

When family members visit her they take turns in petting him.

Valley Park Manor will likely be getting a robot bird, too. “The birds are hilarious. Everybody loves them,” Hurst said. “One of them whistles Yankee Doodle.”

“These pets are ideal for anyone who is socially isolated, or who has Alzheimer’s or dementia,” Hurst added. “Having one of these pets is of great help to caregivers, too.”

Alabama CARES offers assistance to family caregivers. These individuals play important roles in caring for older family members or a child or relative with a severe disability. Alabama CARES provides support services to help families sustain efforts in caring for a loved one. The services provided by Alabama CARES do not replace the role of the family caregiver but enhances their ability to provide informal care for as long as appropriate.

For more information go to Alabama or call 1-800-AGE-LINE.

Hicks said it’s important to understand the needs of each individual and their family members. “What works in our area may not work in an urban area like Birmingham,” she said, “and what works there may not work here.”

“We have a multifaceted program that’s designed to meet individual needs.”Hicks said. “The robot pet program is an example of that. It’s something that needs to continue.”