The article about Aibo the robotic dog being equally effective as a therapy dog at relieving loneliness in the elderly struck me as something out of bad science fiction (3/1, A-5, “Robot really hits the Spot”).
I find the idea of an interactive metal device replacing human-animal interaction sad. When certified therapy animals visit residents in nursing homes, there is a real person on the other end of the leash. The visitors – animal and human – may be the only ones coming that day from outside the care facility. The visit can help brighten that resident’s day, as they reminisce about the past or talk about current affairs.
Researchers at the University of Missouri and elsewhere have found that animal-assisted therapy benefits people emotionally and physically by lowering blood pressure, reducing stress and prompting release of beneficial hormones. I think that the residents at Claridge Court, where my Old English Sheepdog Buccleigh visits regularly, would agree that talking to Aibo the robotic dog would not be comparable to petting that big furry guy with the soft brown eyes.