Good Causes

Brenda’s Robo Kitty is a ‘purr-fect’ friend

Like many animal lovers Brenda, 80, loves to spend time with her pet, an affectionate cat named Tommy.

Brenda likes to cradle Tommy in her arms and rock him gently. Sometimes, she’ll sing him a song.

Sammi Otton, the activities organiser at the Brooklands Nursing Home in Pembrokeshire where Brenda lives, said, “Tommy is absolutely a comfort to her and provides real companionship. He also gives her a sense of purpose because she’s a very maternal woman who likes to look after people and animals.”

Tommy, who responds to Brenda’s petting by purring and raising his paw, is not a flesh-and-blood feline. He is, in fact, a furry automaton – one of a menagerie of life-sized robotic pets distributed to care homes in Wales by The National Lottery-funded community interest company Cariad Pet Therapy.

As well as Tommy, the residents at Brooklands are also enjoying the company of a robotic dog called Buddy.

Prior to the pandemic, Cariad Pet Therapy’s team of volunteers made regular visits to care homes, hospitals and schools accompanied by real therapy dogs. Brenda, along with many of the residents at Brooklands, looked forward to a weekly visit from a labrador called Ruby.

Sammi said, “Brenda would respond as soon as Ruby came into the room. She’d put her arms out and pat her and talk to her.”

Robert Thomas, founder and project manager at Cariad Pet Therapy, said it moved quickly to find a temporary alternative to real therapy dogs when the first lockdown forced the suspension of visits. Using funding from The National Lottery, it was able to buy 35 robotic pets – a selection of puppies and cats – and distribute them to care homes.

Sammi said the synthetic pets do a remarkably good impression of the real thing. She said, “The cat purrs and vibrates which is rather nice. It has sensors on the top of its head so if you stroke it the head moves, it brings its paw up to its mouth and rolls over onto its back.”

Sammi acknowledges the robo-pets cannot completely replace interaction with a real animal, but they are a “good substitute” while visits from Ruby the labrador and other therapy dogs are on hold.

She said, “They’re also great conversation starters for our residents, many of whom had animals growing up.”

Rob said Cariad Pet Therapy has received “fantastic” feedback from care homes that have been given a robotic pet. He said, “They’ve been a revelation in difficult times.”

8th April 2021

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