Recently I saw several news items about a new toy from Hasbro: a $99 robotic cat that is meant to bring comfort and companionship to senior citizens. I can’t even say how much this item — and all the attention it was getting — infuriated me.
Nothing can replace a connection with a living, breathing creature – an animal with deeply felt attachment and emotions, who understands when her human is feeling sad or needs an extra purr and cuddle. An adult cat — a living, breathing one, not a manufactured one — is the perfect pet for a senior citizen. They’re calm and quiet company, far more affectionate and intuitive than they are usually given credit for, and do not need to be walked several times a day like dogs do.
Instead of inventing a robot cat, why aren’t we doing more to make assisted livings and nursing homes more pet friendly? Shelters and rescues usually have an overload of senior cats that are having trouble finding homes. Why can’t these cats live out their golden years with humans who are at the same stage of life?
About a decade ago, my parents adopted a pair of young cats, Smokey and Bandit (don’t blame me for their names). Smokey was a beautiful, longhaired black cat and Bandit was a Japanese Bobtail. At the time my parents were seniors but healthy. Maybe they should have adopted older cats, but they took a gamble that they would outlive their cats. Not long after they cats were adopted, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and she died in early 2009, leaving my dad with Smokey and Bandit. My dad, who was living alone, was happy to have the pair as companions, and took good care of them. Then, in 2013, Bandit stopped eating. The vet found a cancerous mass and she was euthanized. That just left my dad and Smokey. Smokey was always more my dad’s cat than Bandit was, and she understood him very well.
Then, in 2014, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Even though he didn’t feel sick at the time, I got him to agree to move into an assisted living home, knowing that he wouldn’t get better. The most important thing for me was to find him a place that allowed him to keep Smokey. I did locate a facility for him, only a few minutes from my house, and they were anxious enough to have him that they waved the pet fee for Smokey.
My dad spent the next 11 months at the assisted living home, gradually going downhill at first, and then more quickly as his body degenerated. Smokey stayed by him the whole time. Even as sick as he was, he managed to acquire a girlfriend who lived one floor down from him. My dad always had a way with the ladies, although I personally never could quite grasp that side of him. This woman lovingly took care of my dad, and equally as lovingly took care of Smokey. Smokey loved her in return — she considered them both her people.
Finally, early last April, my dad’s body gave out and he died. I had assumed that the lady who took care of him would adopt Smokey, but I was shocked to find out that the facility, who was so generous about waiving the pet fee for my dad, wanted to charge her such an exorbitant monthly fee that I couldn’t have come up with it for her on an ongoing basis. At 12 years old, Smokey is in great health and has a lot of good years ahead of her. So I did the only thing I could — I took Smokey home to take care of her until I could find a home where she could have her own person, something she can’t have here with three other cats. We are still looking. But I really do feel Smokey should have stayed with the woman who took such good care of my dad in his final days.
Why aren’t assisted living facilities and nursing homes doing more to allow their residents to have pets instead of putting blocks in their way? I can understand that there are cases where an elderly resident can’t have their own cat – immune deficiencies, certain types of dementia that might make them dangerous to a pet – but these cases are far fewer than the residents who would benefit from having a cat either in their room, or living at the facility and visiting them on a regular basis. Care for a healthy adult cat is not difficult or expensive and could easily be added into a facility’s budget. I do believe things are slowly turning in favor of pets at facilities for elderly residents, but it’s not happening fast enough.
My dad got a type of companionship from Smokey that could never be duplicated by a robot. I’m sure Hasbro is a fine company, but I hope this product falls flat on its fake face.