DANVILLE — Some residents of the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System will get a chance to “adopt” a cat or dog — without the messes, demands and expenses of a real animal.
The robotic cats and puppies move and make noises just like real animals, and respond to a person’s motions and touch.
“It’s like you have a real animal in your hands,” said Rob Musgrove, trustee of the Knights of Columbus Council 754 and president of the Columbus Club.
“It gets used to your personality and your individual touch,” said Mike Puhr, past club coordinator of the Danville Columbus Club.
Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree members are trying to raise money to buy at least 10 cats and dogs for veterans in the Alzheimer’s unit/Honor House at the VA. The cost is about $100 per robot, but the group hopes to get a discount.
An upcoming fundraiser weekend will help raise money for the project. For the first time, the K of C will have Glo Bingo starting at 7 p.m. Saturday at the club, 310 Bryan Ave.
Glo Bingo uses black lights and tablecloths; people wear hats and necklaces and use dabbers that glow in the dark while a disc jockey plays music. It’s an interactive twist on traditional bingo. Items will be provided by a state-licensed vendor that specializes in Glo Bingo.
The K of C hopes to attract 275 people, and encourages people to buy tickets ahead of time.
BENEFITS TO VETS
Jennifer Sheehan-Wells, voluntary service specialist at the VA, said, “We are excited for the potential to offer individual veterans with dementia their own pet.”
In the past, Recreation Therapy used robotic pets in a group setting, which was well received by veterans, she said.
“Staff noticed an increase in tranquility in the environment when the pets were previously introduced. “
As for other benefits, she added, “Robotic pets are not only a comfort to our veterans, but also provide a therapeutic value by decreasing agitation, providing a sense of companionship and provide the veteran with a sense of purpose through caring for their pet.”
Puhr noted that the pets help keep the patients focused. Studies also have shown that the robotic pets help the veterans with mental health issues, as well as agitation, restlessness and anxiety.
The pets also can spark a conversation between the veteran and a staff member or visitor, and possibly bring back memories of the veteran’s past pets.
The veterans who are given the pets will keep them for their own. Musgrove suggested that the pets be fitted with collars with the veteran’s name.
The animals have built-in sensor technology. Musgrove demonstrated how a tuxedo-marked cat can meow, blink its eyes, purr, roll over and clean its paws. The voice can be set to mute if the meowing is too distracting.
“It’s not just a stuffed animal sitting on a lap,” said Rich Miller, Faithful Navigator of the Fourth Degree.
Because they are so life-like, it would be nice if a local service group could make or donate little blankets for the pets to “sleep” on, Musgrove said.
YEAR IN THE WORKS
The idea for the project started last year.
The K of C members volunteer at the VA, making donations of clothing, games, books and hygiene items. Musgrove is the K of C representative along with Bill Gifford and John Bodensteiner at the VA’s quarterly meetings to find out what services are needed.
He also works as a program analyst with Care in the Community at the VA.
When Musgrove found out about the pets, and bought one to demonstrate, he suggested that the K of C Fourth Degree, with its emphasis on patriotism, buy the pets for residents at the VA.
“I’m excited about it,” he said.
The Knights of Columbus has had a presence in Danville since 1903; its building (the Columbus Club) opened in 1996 at its current site.
The group also undertakes community projects, such as its annual Tootsie Roll sale to raise money for local children with disabilities, free-throw and poster contests for local youth, and supporting the local Catholic parishes.