Robotic Cats of Balsam Bay
Robotic pets make the “purr-fect” companion.
The elevator doors opened on the 9th floor of Northwood Centre. As I stepped into the Balsam Bay community, I saw the strangest thing; there on a table sat eight cats and two dogs. The cats meowed and blinked and the dogs yipped. Residents and staff gathered round, for this was not a Twilight Zone moment; the cats are real, but not real.
They are robotic cats, and their abundance in Balsam Bay is due to the wonderful collaboration of a passionate care team and the work of fund-raisers. Janice’s mom, Helen, is a resident of Balsam Bay. Helen has lived with dementia for several years and Janice is always looking for ideas to engage with her mom. She tells how she first heard about robotic cats.
“It was our company accountant. She had seen a piece on a home in Chester that uses robotic cats in their treatment therapies for patients with dementia. I was intrigued, so next time I was in to see mom I mentioned the cats to Siju Mathew, The RN Clinical Leader of Balsam Bay.” Siju knew a cat had been purchased for a resident on Pine Bay. Arrangements were made to borrow the cat to see if it would be beneficial for Helen. They brought the cat to Helen, and Janice eagerly watched her mom’s reaction. “As soon as mom saw the cat she reached out for it,” Janice smiles. “She was transported back to her days at home in Dartmouth and her pet cat Gigi. To her, the cat was real.”
Janice went online that night and ordered her mom a cat. She instantly bonded with her new companion, naming it Gigi just like her old cat. A funding application was already started to obtain Balsam Bay’s very own robotic cat, said Siju, “Janice’s generosity and fundraising efforts meant we were able to obtain our cats without having to wait for approval.” He went on to explain the benefits of the robotic cats. “Pet therapy is widely recognized as beneficial for people with dementia. The treatment of dementia is all about emotion and connection. Animal interaction helps the individual connect to their past and can stimulate memories. Real cats have their own minds – they don’t always want to be where they are needed most; they require care and attention; and many people today have allergies to cats and dogs. Robotic cats offer many of the benefits of real animal interaction, with none of the side effects. They will happily stay with a resident for hours on end, responding to the touch of their human with realistic purring, head and body movements.”
The robotic cats are part of the Hasbro Joy for All collection. The company has developed their interactive toy technologies to create a lifesized cat complete with realistic purring and movement, specifically as companion pets for the aging population.
Helen was so happy with her cat, but it was the reaction of another resident that convinced her they needed more cats for Balsam Bay. One evening Lauri Fancy, an LPN at Balsam Bay, came to her. Another resident was very anxious and upset. Could she borrow Helen’s cat to see if Gigi would calm the lady? Janice agreed and together they took the cat and placed it on the lady’s lap. Immediately she calmed and began talking to the cat and reciting a poem from memory.
Janice knew she had to help. She began fundraising at her company, Mill Supply Ltd. Between those fundraising dollars and donations made to the Northwood Foundation, additional cats were purchased. Other families have also been inspired to purchase animals for their loved ones.
The entire Balsam Bay team is behind the project and the cats are often effectively used to engage with the seniors for whom they care. Today, Balsam Bay has two ‘house cats’ available to all residents, Honeysuckle and Butterscotch and several personally owned cats. And just like real cats they’ve made themselves very much at home.
– Submitted by Andrew Robinson, Contributing Writer