“They don’t claw ya, you don’t have to feed ‘em, and they don’t need kitty litter.”
Wise words from Jackie Gale, a patient at Hamilton Health Sciences’ St. Peter’s Hospital (SPH). She’s referring to the hospital’s new litter of robotic cats. The digital kitties are furry, but not too feisty—the perfect temperament to put patients at ease.
Jean reached out to Hasbro, the toy company that makes the pets, to place an order, and it ended up donating a trio of cats to the unit. Since they arrived, they’ve become very popular with patients and staff. Each cat is paired up with a patient for the duration of their stay in the hospital.
“What’s great about these pets is that they are very portable, and can be brought out when they’re needed most,” says Jean. “Staff and volunteers can use them, and it helps them have positive interactions with patients.”
Jean says the robotic cats help to spark conversation and memories. When Jean gave a cat to Donna, a patient who’s been at SPH since March, they started to chat about pets they’ve had over the years. “My daughter’s cat Smokey used to wait at her bedroom door when she was away,” Donna recalled.
The robotic pets are also in use on SPH’s Behavioral Health unit. This unit caters to people with serious dementia, and the team has been using Hasbro’s robotic cats and dogs for about a year with great success. Their collection of ten cats and dogs was purchased through the Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation Family Grants Program.
On both units, the pets are used for a number of reasons—different people benefit from them in different ways. They motivate patients to move by giving them a reason to do so, like reaching to pet a dog, or brushing a cat. They make sounds and respond to touch, which gives patients sensory stimulation. They can be brought to a patient who is getting upset or anxious to help soothe them.
Gail, a patient on the Behavioral Health Unit, has become very fond of her orange robotic cat, named Fluffy. When she gets agitated, petting the cat and listening to it purr helps to calm her.
The robo pets aren’t a replacement for live therapy pet visits, which are still a bit hit at SPH. Instead, they’re a chance to get the benefits real pets offer, in a more spontaneous way.
Both programs are hoping to get more robotic pets in the near future. The pets must be paired with a specific patient to prevent the spread of germs, so each additional cat or dog means another patient can benefit from this unique therapy.
Individuals want to have a sense of purpose in their life, people work to make money to be productive, kids go to school to learn more on what they want to do with their life etc. Being able to do something, give a sense of satisfaction we can’t get anywhere else. However, for older individuals, for those that have dementia, finding that sense of purpose and satisfaction is difficult because of their limitations due to their safety and well-being.
From adulthood, to parenthood and on, people often look after those that were younger or more inexperienced than them because it felt satisfying to see them succeed but when put in a situation where they need to be helped instead because of their health or age it takes away that sense of worth in themselves and independence. Having a sense of control over parts of your life makes you feel comfortable and stable, but when thrown in a situation where you have no control over, it can make people nervous and panic. I believe that is why the robotic animals are great for older individuals and those with dementia because it gives them something to do and feel a sense of accomplishment from doing so, and brings a sense of control over a part of their life.