Skip to main content

Resources

It’s raining faux cats and dogs, and creating a slippery slope

It’s raining faux cats and dogs, and creating a slippery slope

It’s raining faux cats and dogs, and creating a slippery slope
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it’s no wonder furry animal robots that imitate the comforting purrs and heartbeats of our favorite pets have hit the shelves.
Anecdotal evidence and various research studies have suggested that living pets help lower our blood pressure, decrease loneliness, and give us a reason to get out of bed every day.
So why do I scoff at manufacturing robotic pets for Grandma and Grandpa? What could be the harm?
On the surface, robotic pets seem harmless enough. Hospitals and senior living facilities use Paro, a seal robot developed by Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, as an interactive therapy tool, according to CNN. The grandfather in Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series, “Master of None,” played a veteran who had one of the seal robots.
The market for robotic pets has expanded beyond clinical settings and into homes with toymaker Hasbro’s Joy For All™ Companion Pets. “Why Should Kids Have All the Fun?” reads the tagline for the company’s furry cat and dog robots. The product appears to target a niche audience of elders or people with disabilities who want pets, but who can’t have or can no longer care for real animals.
From the viewpoint of well-meaning family member or facility staff, robotic pets have advantages: no need for feeding, walking, or scooping. They’re predictable – they don’t chew furniture, bite or scratch people, trigger allergies or create a tripping hazard. However, as an advocate for people with disabilities, here’s my take:
 Toys are for kids, not adults. Adults with physical or mental disabilities are still adults. Giving them toys is condescending.
 Mechanical pets can be programmed to roll on their backs, nuzzle their owners’ hands, move their heads, imitate heartbeats, bark, or meow. Although they might perform realistic actions, they cannot sense or react to human emotions. Humans can pet the robots and talk to them, but battery-operated pets don’t interact with people like living pets do.
 The novelty of “things” wear off. The excitement of having a Fitbit that counts my daily steps waned after only a few months, but I’ve never tired of my living, breathing cats.
 If an elder starts finding it harder to care for a pet, many options are available. Entrepreneurs have started businesses that bring dog walking, poop scooping, and pet grooming to your front door. Manufacturers have simplified daily pet care with products such as automatic feeding and watering bowls and self-cleaning litter boxes. For elders in a pet-friendly senior living facility, staff, family and volunteers can help seniors to ensure proper care for their pets.
 Elsewhere, trained handlers can bring live pets in for pet therapy sessions, where residents can enjoy a lick on the face.
 At the very least, facilities can create spaces for “watchable” live pets, such as birds or fish.
Pets are one of life’s joys. And I think real pets are the best kind for all of us.
******************************************************************************************
Molly Klocksin has been a Case Advocate at Disability Rights Nebraska for nearly 16 years. At home, Molly and her domestic partner have two playful cats whose antics generate laughter daily.

Close