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  • Linda Danskin, Interim HealthCare Hospice of Coshocton

Companionship for Hospice Patients from Robotic Cats & Dogs

Chaplain and Spiritual Care Coordinator, Linda Danskin, out of Interim HealthCare Coshocton Hospice office, is working on certification in Animal Assisted Intervention for Professionals and she has been utilizing robotic dogs and robotic cats in her ministry to hospice patients.

The Joy for All robotic pets have built-in sensors that respond to motion, touch and sound. Their heads move, eyes open and close, and they sleep when not in use. The cats exhibit cat-like movements and sounds – vibrapurr sounds and feels like real purring and the cat meows. The dog, through barkback technology, responds to voice with barks, pants, whines and wagging its tail. With the therapeutic pets, there’s no concern about the safety of the pet, feeding them, taking them outside or making sure they are up-to-date with their vaccines. In addition, there aren’t fears about patient safety due to possible pet aggression, allergies, tripping over them, or the costs associated with caring for a live animal. As Chaplain Linda began introducing the dog and cat with various patients, she was amazed at the impact they were having on them! That’s when she began to reach out to the Mary Grace Foundation to provide these robotic pets as a part of Animal Assisted Intervention/therapy for patients she thought would benefit the most from regular interaction with them.

Chaplain Linda looks at a variety of factors when evaluating a patient’s need for a robotic pet: social isolation and loneliness, agitation, depression, expressions of sadness, limited interaction with caretakers or family members, and previous experiences with pets. Many patients, particularly those now residing in facilities, have had to give up beloved pets and they miss the companionship and unconditional love. For those still residing at home, there are times when the patient or his/her caretakers believe that continued care for a pet is too much for the patient or presents an ongoing safety risk (tripping over, falls, etc.) and decide to rehome the beloved pet. The robotic pet can bring comfort and companionship, help the patient feel relaxed and less anxious while also reducing depression and improving socialization and communication abilities. The robotic pet also offers sensory stimulation thus enhancing cognitive ability and elevating mood.

The success stories of the impact of AAI with the robotic pet keep stacking up. Chaplain Linda has noted with many of her dementia/Alzheimer’s patients that they interact with the pet, talk to the pet, hug and brush the pet, and have developed a significant bond with the pet. They often smile, talking to their robotic pet and express that “the cat (or dog) is looking at me, listens to me and loves me.” They believe the pet is responding to their interactions (verbal and physical) through meowing, turning their head, opening and closing their eyes – in essence, having a conversation with them. Many sleep with their pets and hold onto them while sitting. The robotic pets provide an alternative way for patients to express themselves. Keeping a patient engaged mentally, emotionally, and spiritually is so important, especially for those with dementia.

Linda Danskin had one patient who ended up in a facility and had to give up her dogs when she became an Interim HealthCare Hospice patient. She missed the dogs and her general affect when Linda would visit was fairly flat and monotone. When the robotic dog was introduced to the patient’s visit, the patient’s eyes lit up, a big smile came across her face, and her flat affect was lost when she began to talk to the dog. She anticipated her visits with her spiritual care coordinator (SCC), because of the dog and when the Mary Grace Foundation purchased one for her, she was overjoyed. The dog slept with her, was a constant companion to her, and brought her endless comfort. When the patient sensed her life was coming to an end, the SCC was told she made arrangements for who would get the dog, and the dog was by her side when she passed.

Linda looks at a variety of factors when evaluating a patient’s need for a robotic pet: social isolation and loneliness, agitation, depression, expressions of sadness, limited interaction with caretakers or family members, and previous experiences with pets.

Another of her patients, who has dementia, would often sit by herself in her room or in a gathering space and not really have much social interaction. Linda understood from family that she loved cats. When Linda introduced the cat to her, the patient's face lit up and she immediately began to interact with the cat and talk to it, stating it responded to her. When she received her own cat provided by the Mary Grace Foundation, she was so happy. She interacted with it, interacted with others concerning the cat, and told her spiritual care coordinator, Linda, she never expected anyone to purchase a cat like this for her.

Other Interim HealthCare staff members have commented on her bonding with the cat and increased socialization skills.

Another patient who had cats but Interim HealthCare Hospice staff said didn’t really interact with them, also greatly benefited from a visit with the robotic cat. The Interim HealthCare Hospice RN asked if she could take spiritual care coordinator Linda’s robotic cat with her to visit the patient. The patient immediately took to the cat, interacted with the cat, and wanted to snuggle with the cat when she went for a nap. The Mary Grace Foundation provided a cat for the patient, and the patient found great comfort in having the cat with her even in her final days on Hospice care.

Interim HealthCare Hospice team members have seen some amazing changes in their patients that have had visits from the robotic pet (or received one through the Mary Grace Foundation), and some even talk with patients/caregivers about the robotic pets at admission. The impact that the gifts of these robotic pets provided to patients by the Mary Grace Foundation has been in the lives of patients, their caregivers, and even hospice staff cannot be overstated. The patients’ joy, positive impact on socialization and sense of companionship, as well as increased comfort and quality of life is heartwarming.

If you or a loved one may benefit from having a robotic cat or dog as a companion, submit a request today by visiting our 'Make a Request' page.

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