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Robot Pets: Would You If You Could?

Can a robot pet fill an emotional hole?

robot pets

Embrace the Passion: Pets in Space 3 released this week, so I thought it would be fun and/or interesting to explore the concept of pets—specifically the topic of robot pets. While robot pets are interesting to explore and create in fiction, how helpful are they in real life? 

Robot dogs and cats are cherished around the world and are increasingly utilized in therapy. However, our bond with these robots and replacing live pets with them raises ethical and societal questions.

Robo-pets are designed as man’s best friend. But can metal and plastic take the place of our live fur babies? Studies have shown that robotic pets provide therapeutic value for humans, similar to those of actual dogs and cats.  A study of 61 dementia patients who were given a robotic pet to hold and care for 20 minutes, three times a week were compared to a group who weren’t given any kind of pet. The patients who’d spent times with the robotic pet showed signs of decreased stress: lower pulse rates, higher blood oxygen levels, lower ratings for depression and anxiety, less pain, and less need for behavioral medication. Other research revealed that children with autism interrelated with a robot dog more than a simple mechanical one, by speaking and reacting to it, actions which are difficult for autistic children.

But if we are exposed to robot pets more than living, breathing ones, won’t we be missing out on the emotional connection we have with real pets?  Though developmental psychologists have raised these concerns, we don’t have conclusive research on whether robot pets offer the same long-term psychological and health effects in human as actual dogs and cats. Lots of people feel that using robotic pets instead of real ones in nursing homes may diminish the benefits of therapy.

But the studies that have been run do give us an idea of what robotic pets can achieve. We know the bond between us and our animal friends is highly beneficial. Interacting with pets alleviates symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, Alzheimer’s, autism, and more. 

We have a vital need to love and care for others so the relationship between us and our pets is therapeutic to all of us, it lowers our blood pressure, cholesterol, feelings of loneliness and more. 

However, unlike robot animals, dogs and cats are attuned to human emotions—our relationship with our pets is a two-way street. Is it truly healthy to love something that’s not real, that can’t love us back? We need to look not only at the benefits but also any repercussions of using robots to offer care to children or the elderly. Grandma may enjoy her robotic puppy but not as much as she loves and needs regular visits from her family.

Thankfully, Hero-Dogs.org does not rely on robot pets to provide vital support for our veterans and first responders. Ten percent of the first month’s profits from sales of Embrace the Passion: Pets in Space 3 will be donated to this worthy organization. If you haven’t grabbed your copy, please do! Not only will you get eleven great stories, but you help a great cause!

Perilously yours,

Pauline

cover art

2 Comments

  1. Eileen K says:

    I’m excited about robot pets for the elderly because some of them can’t take care of live animals. A robot cat is great for a person with dementia: they can have some connection without having to remember when to feed it, take it to the vet, etc. Additionally, if you have movement restrictions- say you’re mostly wheelchair bound like my grandmother– a robot pet will not need to be walked and won’t knock down vases that are difficult to clean up.
    It’s not the same as the real thing, but I think anything we can do to cut down on feelings of isolation for the elderly is worth having. Of course, humans visiting is the best.

    1. I love the idea of robot pets for the elderly, too (I’m on the fast track to elderly, haha). Technology is fast catching up with giving a robot pet the sounds of a real pet and if that was your only option? And yes, humans visiting is critical, too. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by!

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