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‘We’re best friends’: Gifts of animatronic pets provide companionship to Sisters seniors with disabilities

(Update: adding video, comments by residents of The Lodge in Sisters, Romeo's Joy found)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- A Sisters nonprofit, Romeo's Joy , is bringing love and companionship to seniors with disabilities in an unusual way - through animatronic pets. They provide them to seniors with dementia, Alzheimer's or mental and physical disabilities who need companionship but can't care for a living pet.

To date, the organization has donated 16 animatronic pets to Sisters-area seniors. There goal is to donate 50 by the end of the year.

According to medical studies, pets can provide a solution to loneliness, something seniors experience at higher rates. However, many seniors are unable to care for a real-life pet. Romeo's Joy seeks to find solutions to these issues with animatronic pets, helping with social isolation and other issues.

"Yes tame - he does what I tell him," said Josie, a resident of The Lodge in Sisters, who opted for only her first name to be shared.

Animatronic pets are robot toys that have sensors, respond to sound and touch,  and essentially create a two-way interaction.

Romeo's Joy founder Cheryl Pellerin said, "Confirmation that there's a response - that's what's really key."

"It just warms my heart to see the happiness that these little pets are bringing people," she added

Pellerin says the pets can vary from dogs to cats, and even birds. Romeo's Joy provides these pets free of charge to Sisters Country residents who are unable to care for a real live pet.

"I tried to have a real one, but it was too much for me," said Ellis, another resident at The Lodge in Sisters. "I just couldn't bend over."

She received her pet cat Prinky about a week ago. She loves to spend time with Prinky and says he offers good companionship.

Sally Drinkward said, "I don't have to open the door or let her out - that is the best part about it. She sits there, and she she's purring all the time, that makes me happy." 

Drinkward is just getting to know her new pet friend, named Putins. She says the best part about having her is she's easy to take care of.

The animatronic pets are specifically designed to help seniors with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other mental and physical disabilities. 

Pellerin says, "Medical studies have shown that pet therapy really helps improve people's mental and physical health. But unfortunately, many of the people who would benefit from pet therapy cannot care for a live animal.".

Pellerin got to experience the benefits of pet therapy first hand when her own mother was diagnosed with alzheimers. She brought her labradoodle, the original Romeo, to spend time with her mother after the diagnosis. 

"She needed her own little pet and that's when I discovered this company," said Pellerin. "I bought her her own little Romeo in the form of an animatronic pet."

Animatronic dogs cost $143 each, while cats and birds offer a cheaper option.

Nearly $3,000 in funding from the Roadhouse Foundation, St. Charles and Citizens 4 Community help make these free of charge for seniors residing in Sisters.

"I just love to hold him, I really do," said Ellis.

"We're best friends," said Drinkward.

"He doesn't go anywhere without me," Josie said.

What's next? Romeo's Joy will be reaching out to seniors who are being cared for at home by family members. Folks can go to Romeo's Joy and fill out an application, or donate to the cause. 

Article Topic Follows: Sisters

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Matthew Draxton

Matthew Draxton is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Matthew here.


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