In Isolating Times, Can Robo-Pets Provide Comfort?

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When Linda Spangler asked her mother, in a video chat, what she would like as gift for her 92nd birthday, the response came promptly.“I’d like a dog,” Charlene Spangler said. “Is Wolfgang dead?” Wolfgang, a family dachshund, had indeed died long ago; so had all his successors. Ms. Spangler, who lives in a dementia care facility in Oakland, Calif., has trouble recalling such history.Her daughter, a doctor, considered the request. Before visitors were barred from the residence because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Spangler had seen her mother every other day, often taking her to Lake Merritt in her wheelchair to see the ducks and to pat passing dogs.In her facility, Charlene Spangler had eaten meals with several other residents, joined art classes and listened to visiting musicians.Now activities and communal meals have vanished. Aside from one quick visit in the lobby, she has not seen her daughter in person in six months; they communicate through 15-minute video calls when staff members can arrange them.“She’s more isolated in her room now,” Dr. Spangler said. “And she misses having a dog.”Knowing that her mother couldn’t manage pet care, even if the residence …

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