When elderly clients of the Bronx-based RiverSpring Health Plans are feeling low, they might get a cat in their lap — a robotic cat that is.
Susan Garelick, 66, did. After she said goodbye forever to her 14-year-old feline two years ago, she was lonely and depressed.
“I was devastated,” she tells The Post from her home in The Bronx. Six months ago, the caregivers from RiverSpring, her long-term care management service, gave her a high-tech tabby from Joy for All Companion Pets.
The program aims to help the elderly cope with loneliness, without needing to care for long-term living pets, which can be a challenge, says Patty Hron, vice president of member services for RiverSpring Health Plans, which serves the NYC area.
Garelick named the fluffy feline Princess — after her first cat.
“Princess has changed my life,” Garelick says. “She fills the emptiness that I feel.”
The copycat blinks, moves her paws and responds to motion and touch. “She meows and purrs like a real cat,” Garelick says.
In addition to keeping members company, the robotic pets also lift their spirits. Hron says: “Cats purr. Dogs bark. That therapeutic movement of petting an animal is really healing.”
And bonus: No feeding, no cat litter, no allergic reactions, no shedding — and only the batteries die, not the robot pets.
Eighteen members of RiverSpring Health Plans have robot felines — and seven have robot dogs.
“We are always looking for creative ways to manage our members and keep them at home — happy and engaged,” says Hron. “For our members who are agitated, we’d rather have them interact with a companion pet to calm them down, rather than take medication.”
The mechanical pals can help with depression, anxiety, agitation and dementia among other conditions, RiverSpring claims.
“My family thinks it’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” says Garelick. “Princess can’t love me the way a real cat can love me, but she has helped me a lot and makes me happy.”
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