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Robotic Pets Purr-Fect For Oxford Retirement Community

Ann Thompson
Resident Jean Koch cuddles a robotic dog while one of two cats waits for somebody to pick it up.

Older adults at The Knolls of Oxford, a continuing care retirement community, are embracing robotic pets. Two pretend cats and a dog now make their home there and don't have any trouble making friends.

Residents like Jean Koch are lining up to spend time with the four-legged machines, although Koch makes it clear she's a dog person and could not care less about the cats. "You're so sweet. I love you. It's just the sweetest little pumpkin. I could love it to pieces," she says to the dog.

Koch grew up on a Butler County farm where dogs were constant companions. As the dog wags its tail, barks and blinks its eyes, she says the pet is very realistic.

Myrna Strohmire prefers the cats. She tells it, "Talk to me. It's ok. We're here together. You'll be ok."

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
Myrna Strohmire looks up briefly after talking to the robotic cat.

Strohmire had cats on her farm in Brookville, Indiana. The fact that she likes pets is written on a card on her wheelchair. It's part of a project with Gerontology professor Katy Abbott. Her Miami University students interviewed the residents. "Having this kind of option is a way of honoring preferences. And our program, we really try and say let's try to think of ways to honor all the creative preferences because that leads to better quality of life," Abbot says.

Abbot finds one of the problems is social isolationism which is a bigger predictor of mortality. The pet robots fill such a need says activities director Suzanne House. "We do have pet visits. I bring my dog in on occasion and some other families bring theirs. When we don't have the dogs here, this is a great substitute. And as you can see, the love and the affection that's coming out."

Strohmire continued talking about the robotic pets and the  cat got 'jealous.' It started meowing and trying to get her attention. "Now you better shut up," she said. "You'll have to hold on."

The cat and dog did hold on for one last comment from Koch. "Nothing better than a good dog or cat. They're a permanent friend as long as you treat them good."

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.