Sigmund Freud once said, “Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies.” He praised their honesty and pure nature.
Freud’s most famous dog, Jofi, would sit with him during therapy sessions. Originally Jofi was there because she helped Freud relax. But soon Freud noticed that Jofi’s presence would also lift the spirits of his patients.
When Jofi was in the room, his patients’ walls came down. They were more willing to talk about difficult problems.
Researchers have since found evidence of what Freud had noticed. People’s heartbeats slow down, and they become more relaxed when interacting with animals.
At first, people were skeptical of animal-assisted therapy. Today therapy dogs treat many different mental health issues such as PTSD and depression.
During the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, 26 students and teachers died. Afterwards, the surviving children were distressed and scared. Many of them found comfort in the company of a therapy dog called Spartacus.
The children were unable to talk about the terrible events to adults, but they opened up in the presence of Spartacus. The big dog made the children feel safe.
Samantha Kuric, a student at Sandy Hook, was particularly traumatized. She struggled to leave the safety of her house. When she met Spartacus, they hit it off immediately. In just a couple of hours, Samantha seemed like a different person.
The impact of therapy dogs led to a new state law in Connecticut. It stated that therapy animals would be immediately available to any crisis victim.
Therapy dogs have also been a comfort to the elderly. But for those living alone, their companionship isn’t always possible. When Tom Stevens’ mother developed Alzheimer’s, she could no longer care for her beloved dog. Losing her dog left a gaping hole in her life. So, her son began searching for something else to fill it. Hitting a dead-end, he started a robotics company and created Jennie the robo-dog.
To the naked eye, Jennie is a golden Labrador Retriever. She looks and acts like the real thing. But in fact, Jennie is a robot therapy dog designed to provide emotional support. Tom believes Jennie is ideal for people who cannot keep a real pet.
She has already been a calming influence on patients with Parkinson’s disease. Jennie is Tom’s first robotic dog, but he has plans to create many more.
Can robotic dogs really have the same effect as real dogs, or are we barking up the wrong tree? Time will tell.