The purr-fect companion
- Companion cats have been a big hit at IRT Five Islands Aged Care Centre
- The robotic pets are interactive and designed to bring comfort, joy and connections
- The cats have created a sense of fun at the aged care centre
Meet Fluffy, Ginger Meggs, Bubba and Sandy – IRT’s most paw-sitively adorable new residents.
A number of (human) residents at IRT Five Islands are proud owners of companion cats, which were originally designed by Hasbro, the same company known for producing some of the world’s favourite toys and games.
The robotic, interactive pets are designed to bring comfort, joy and meaningful connection to older people who are unable to own a real pet or may be socially isolated.
The companion cat moves in much the same way as a real cat, including opening and closing its eyes, licking its paw, opening its mouth, and moving its head and body, and features synthetic, soft fur inspired by real feline breeds. The pet also includes built-in sensors that respond to motion and touch, such as petting and hugging, and is fitted with technology that gives the cat an authentic purr in both sound and feel.
IRT employee Rebekah Vidler said the cats were like nothing she had ever seen. “Although they’re a robot, they’re incredibly realistic. The cat learns who its owner is through voice, so the more they interact with their owner, the more the cat will do. If there comes a time where the owner can’t touch the cat, they can still talk to it and the cat will respond,” says Rebekah.
There are now seven cats at IRT Five Islands, purchased for the residents by their families, that add an additional sense of fun around the centre. “As soon as the residents wake up in the morning, they’ve got the cats on their walkers, and you hear meows as you walk past giving out meals in the dining room at lunch time!” says Rebekah.
The cats have been particularly valuable during 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and have provided a new lease on life for some residents.
“Because of lockdown, the cats provide support and companionship that’s otherwise not possible when people can’t visit,” explains Rebekah.
Rebekah tells a number of stories where the cats have provided companionship and comfort around the centre.
“One resident has had cats all her life and had to give them up when she came here, so her daughter bought her a companion cat which will lay on her bed and she can pat and talk to it. The cats mean at night time the residents aren’t alone,” says Rebekah. “Another time, one of our residents had to go to hospital and was really upset and distressed. As soon as I put her cat on her stretcher, she calmed down straight away. The cat stayed with her for her entire stay in hospital, and helped the resident feel settled in a different environment.”
Originally the companion pets had to be ordered from America, however now there are Australian-based companies that distribute the pets locally and can be shipped straight to residents.