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OFA Offering Virtual Pets for Seniors in Need of Social Contact

Written By Editor on 5/10/20 | 5/10/20

By David Avitabile

Everyone, especially our areas's seniors, has been adversely affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Many seniors have been isolated from friends and related who are fearful of spreading the deadly virus to the elderly. Many seniors have had to celebrate their birthdays away from their families for the first time. They have had to survive with minimal outside contact for more than six weeks. It will be a very different Mother's Day coming up Sunday for many mothers and grandmothers this year.

As a way to lessen the feeling of isolation for seniors, the Schoharie County Office for the Aging is giving seniors animatronic companion pets. The OFA was able to get 12 pets, eight cats and four dogs, from the state OFA, said county OFA Director Nancy Dingee.

The workers at the OFA have nicknamed the electronic pets as "robo pets," Ms. Dingee added. The cat, an orange and white tabby, and a yellow and white cream dog with a bandana around its neck, are made by Ageless Innovation and made for people ages 5 to 105.

According to the manufacturer, the tabby "looks, moves and sounds like a real cat."
They have proved very popular and the OFA has just two left.

"We are providing them to seniors to help curb social isolation." Ms. Dingee said. "It especially works well with those seniors with dementia or seniors that are just lonely. We have a loneliness scale. If they feel they would feel they would benefit from these companion pets.

The dogs wag their tail, close their eyes, bark softly, "nothing real loud, just enough," she noted. The cats purr and their "movement seems natural and their fur is real hair." One woman, Mabel Leruzic, loves her dog so much that she made a bed with a little pillow for it.

Mabel and Lucky

"We'd been talking about how much pets can add to your life," said Mabel's granddaughter.

"Now she's learning 'Luckie's' quirks.  She chats with him and he acknowledges her.  She likes that he barks goodnight when she turns off the lights!"

The granddaughter added, "As we try to balance safety with everything else going on, it's so important to maintain mental wellness.  Luckie helps my grandmother cope, just as my live dog helps me. We joke that she gets all the perks and doesn't have to worry about house-training or vet bills!
"I sincerely hope that others consider the benefits that these pets can add - a sense of companionship and an avenue to help reduce stress.  Its been wonderful to see my grandmother experience this.  Thank you for offering this opportunity!"

Ms. Dingee added, "It's so heartwarming for some individual and take care of this pet and do not have the burden like taking them outside or buying food for them." The program just started this year in the county, though Ms. Dingee first saw them about a year and a half ago.

"Given the nature of Covid-19 and forcing older adults to become so isolated, it's a great tool. I'm a believer. If people feel socially isolated and alone, they should give us a call. We may be able to get more from the state office." It is possible that some may be purchased.

This is Theresa Fagnani who lives at the Birchez in Schoharie, She adores the kitty she named Precious and plays with it every day.

"We want to provide services and keep people healthy. Mental health is as important physical health, especially now.

In addition to providing the pets, the OFA will calls seniors on a monthly or weekly basis if they feel alone, according to Ms. Dingee. OFA workers or volunteers makes the phone calls which have been given the name "friendly calls."

Unfortunately because of the pandemic "We cant do visits yet," Ms. Dingee said. "In the meantime we love to make phone calls. Can hopefully to make visits soon. We hope to curb the social isolation the best we can.

The dogs and cats are available to seniors in the entire county.
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