Sep. 5—In July, Linda Williams accepted a pet cat from the South Carolina Department on Aging, but this is not a normal cat. It's a robotic cat.
The cat purrs, meows, blinks, turns her head, rolls on her back and responds to touch.
The South Carolina Department on Aging created the robotic cat as part of their Robotic Pets Program, which is designed to provide additional companionship and improved quality of life to senior citizens who may be socially isolated or face loneliness.
Williams is a client and resident of the Tri-Development Center of Aiken County, a non-profit serving adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. The non-profit owns several homes and apartments throughout Aiken with supporting staff around the clock who help clients be active members of the community.
Williams is the first recipient from the Tri-Development Center to receive a robotic pet. The robotic cat has helped her cope with the passing of her real-life cat who died of cancer. Williams has named the cat "Lisa" after a Tri-Development staff member and loves her very much.
"Tri-Development felt that Linda was a good candidate to receive a robot cat," said Tawanda Baitmon, the quality assurance coordinator for the Tri-Development Center. "She faced isolation. She faced loneliness. So, Tri-Development felt that Linda would be a good candidate, to which she was. The cat is definitely a good bond for her."
"It's for her to hold and cuddle. But you don't have to feed it, litter box it, or anything like that," Precious Green, Williams' caregiver, explained. "I think for someone more active, if they had one, they'd want a cat to follow them around, but for her, it's perfect."
Williams is under a three-month observation. After three months, the South Carolina Department on Aging will come back and see how she's doing. Then they will come back in six months for another check-in. After six months, there will be a year check-up. If all goes well, the cat will permanently belong to her.
Williams cuddles and grooms the cat regularly. She transports the cat in her walker when she goes out and takes the cat with her when she goes to bed.
"This is a beautiful cat," Williams said. "I don't care what anyone says."
Green believes that this technology will improve the lives of other isolated seniors struggling with loneliness.
Before, Williams would call Green and she would invite her out to help ease her loneliness, but now, she doesn't feel quite as lonely.
"It's brightened her day every day," Green said. "Now, she feels like she has someone here with her to keep her company."