The moment Anne* held her new dog, she smiled. The reaction, for family members, was a happy, startling change. For months, as Anne’s dementia had deepened, she had grown more distant. She slept most of the day and resisted getting dressed.
As her husband and caregiver, Dave*, grew increasingly desperate, a friend suggested that he give Anne a dog, though not just any four-legged companion. Anne, a lifelong dog lover, received a robotic pet. The furry animatronic pooch acts like a normal canine — it wags its tail, barks, turns its head in response to voices — but without the need for vet bills, long walks or, you know, picking up poop.
For Dave, the benefits were clear as soon as he flipped the “on” switch.
“He called and said, ‘Anne is thrilled with this,’ ” says Mary Johnson, a volunteer with Capital Caring Health, a Washington, D.C.-area hospice and palliative care organization. “She sat up in bed, her eyes lit up, she started talking to the dog — she carries it around with her now and won’t put it down.”
Robotic pets provide comfort and care
Johnson recommended the dog to Michigan-based Dave based on her experiences with Capital Caring. Since 2021, Capital Caring has provided 2,500 free robotic dogs, birds and cats to patients, veterans and community members dealing not only with dementia but conditions such as depression, isolation and loneliness. The Ambrosio Guillen Texas State Veterans Home received a donation of six robotic pets from Capital Caring — two dogs, two cats and two birds — for the residents to enjoy in a group setting or one-on-one visits in the residents’ rooms.
Susan Culp, the Veterans Land Board on-site representative at the veterans home, says the residents react with big smiles whenever they get the chance to interact with the pets. “The realistic barks, purrs/meows, chirps and movement provide them with visual and sensory stimulation,” she says.
Resident Billie Tiller, who served in the Army for 20 years, has an “intense relationship” with the robotic dogs. Before coming to the facility, Tiller slept with his three Chihuahuas every night after his wife died, a friend reported. That love has been transferred to the furry “pets.”
“Not only does [Tiller] enjoy their animation and movement,” Culp notes, “but he also enjoys keeping them well-groomed, which is his top priority.”