Meet GeriJoy. He’s a virtual dog. He’s a talking dog. He’s even described as “a compassionate” dog.
He was developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to be an interactive companion for older people with dementia or memory problems, serving to provide what his makers call “continual stimulation.”
But there’s something about GeriJoy, noble as the idea may be, that I find a little bit patronizing, a little bit insulting, and highly phony. His creation also seems an awfully circuitous and robotic route to take to provide a virtual experience with an animated creature when the real thing is so abundantly available.
Clearly, I’m cynical, or at least wary, when it comes to technology — and perhaps more. It was only yesterday, after all, that I cruelly bashed soft and fuzzy stuffed animals.
Despite that, techno-wizards keep trying, intent, it seems, on trying to capture a no-shed, no-drool, no bark, no worries version of dog — be it stuffed, virtual, or mechanical — and then convince you that their inanimate, or animated, object will love you unconditionally forever.
The truth is, close as they might come — and cloning probably comes closest — they never will. Ha ha. Take that.
If GeriJoy, the virtual dog, is making some old person happy, even if it’s a delusional kind of happy, we’re all for it. If it’s being used as a substitute for human attention, we’re not. With all the growth in and demands on senior services and facilities for the elderly, there’s a tendency to look for quick and easy shortcuts, when the keys to doing job right are already obvious — caring staff, ample staff, staff with hearts.
And maybe some dogs — real dogs.
What I’d rather see is not a nursing home where dozens of residents are lined up in wheelchairs, stroking animated images on their hand held devices, but one that’s taking advantage of programs — or even creating some — in which dog ownership among residents is encouraged, and assistance with those dogs is provided; ones where dogs live under communal ownership, or short of that, therapy dogs visit regularly; one that’s investing in building a qualified and caring staff, as opposed to investing in devices that substitute for real human, or dog, contact.
Here’s how the GeriJoy website touts the product: “Have an older loved one who is lonely and suffers from dementia or geriatric depression? GeriJoy can help. We provide talking pets that are intelligent, compassionate, and available 24/7 to talk about anything, including photos and updates from family.”
The virtual dog can be displayed on a computer or other Internet-connected device. The virtual dog, the website claims, ”provides all the availability and unconditional love of an adorable pet, combined with the ability to talk with true intelligence and compassion … It’s as if it lives inside a picture frame, so you get the benefits of pet therapy without any smells, allergies, cleaning up, bites, or food and veterinary bills.”
The virtual dog can provide around the clock stimulation, his developers say, and, in the video snippet above, GeriJoy certainly sounds stimulating, or stimulated, almost orgasmically so. “Oh, you’re so good,” GeriJoy coos as an elderly man strokes the image on the screen.
We’re not sure if that’s what GeriJoy told the Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Healthy Aging Forum this month when he appeared before it. He’ll also be on exhibit at the AARP Health Innovation@50+ Tech Expo on May 31 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, according to the AARP blog.
To get GeriJoy, one must subscribe, and pay from $99 to $129 a month. The hardware costs up to $349 for the most sophisticated, Internet-connected version.
GeriJoy was co-founded by Victor Wang, a former Canadian Army officer who did research on human-machine interaction for NASA while at MIT. He says he was inspired to develop the virtual dog by his grandmother in Taiwan, who became depressed while she was living alone.
Wang says GeriJoy can even serve as a watchdog. In one case, a user’s human caregiver was being verbally abusive, and GeriJoy “contacted the user’s daughter to let her know about it.”
“Whatever your loved one wants to know, the companion can find out and report back,” the website says. “It can send and receive messages and photos between you and your loved one, also via the Internet. All this is done through the intuitive metaphor of a talking dog. Your loved one doesn’t even need to know what a computer is.”
We don’t care if the day comes when a virtual dog can cook dinner, push a wheelchair, administer medications or help you understand your health insurance.
A real dog is better — even with his shedding and drooling. Real dogs bring one into, and keep one in, the moment. Real dogs can help you keep a grip on reality, as opposed to pulling you into fantasy land. And real dogs offer a true form of love and validation — even if they can’t say, at least with words, “Oh, you are so good.”
Posted by jwoestendiek May 24th, 2013 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: aarp, aging, animals, animated, app, assisted living, computer, dementia, dog, dogs, elderly, gerijoy, health, image, internet, memory, mit, nursing homes, pets, talking, technology, unconditional love, virtual, virtual dog
For as long as it keeps ticking, and however strong the attachments it already has are, it’s capable of finding new things to adore.
Which brings us to this sordid tale — one that is also partly uplifting, and, if you want to be all technical about it, also partly shoplifting.
My dog Ace has always been No. 1 in the eyes of my father, a lifelong dog-lover.
My dad was able to quickly detect what a special beast Ace truly is. Watching them snuggle on his couch when we visited always made my insides glow.
For years now, the first thing my father asks when he calls has always been, “How’s Ace?” The first thing he asked me when he came out of a coma, that followed a heart attack, that followed some stomach surgery, was “How’s Ace?” When I visited him in Arizona a few months ago, without Ace, the first thing he asked was, “Where’s Ace?”
Since his lengthy hospitalization, my dad has mostly resided in a skilled nursing facility in Mesa, where, at one point, he was having physical therapy sessions with a dog named Henry, who belongs to one of the therapists. While those sessions are no longer part of his daily regimen, he still sees Henry — full name Henry Higgins — regularly, and apparently they’ve grown quite attached.
According to my sources, after dinner one night last week, my father rolled into the therapy gym unnoticed and snuck off with a photo of Henry that hangs there, planning on taking it back to his sparsely furnished room. It was reportedly his second attempt to steal the framed photo. After getting caught the first time, rolling along the hallway with the picture in his lap, he stuffed it under his shirt the second time.
I found this news upsetting — not because my father was engaging in larcenous behavior, but because I’ve done my best to keep Ace first and foremost in his mind. I’ve made sure his room had a “Travels with Ace” calendar. For his birthday, I sent him a sweatshirt with a giant photo of Ace emblazoned on the front. I’ve supplied him — even though my father’s not doing any traveling — with an Ace travel mug.
For some reason, whatever else he forgets, even temporarily, I want him to remember Ace eternally.
I realize it is petty jealousy, and that it’s likely limited to me. Ace, in all probability, wouldn’t mind a bit that my father has another dog to entertain, comfort, calm, console and warm him.
And in truth, I am far more grateful than I am jealous when it comes to Henry, who I got to meet when I visited, and who is pretty special and wonderful himself.
On my dad’s 89th birthday, Henry was there; Ace and I weren’t.
I can understand my dad being smitten with Henry, and I’m glad he is. Dogs and love, if you ask me, are among the top five reasons to go on living. (The other three are books, music and pizza.)
It makes me want to get Ace — not to mention myself — out there for another visit.
Once he was confronted — when he was noticed, after the second attempted theft, with a bulge under his Maui t-shirt — my father confessed and revealed his ill-gotten bootie.
No charges were filed.
And the framed photo of Henry, according to Henry’s owner, will be placed in a new location:
My father’s room.
Posted by jwoestendiek April 22nd, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, aging, animals, bill woestendiek, dog, dogs, elderly, henry, henry higgins, jealousy, love triangle, mesa, nursing, pets, photo, physical therapy, stolen, therapy, therapy dog, william woestendiek
Two German shepherds who grew up together, became impaired about the same time and ended up being surrendered by their owner, are looking for a new home — but it must be one they can share, their foster mom says.
Smokey lost his sight two years ago; River lost his hearing about the same time.
Now they depend on each other to get around.
“Smokey will follow the sound of River’s breathing, and River will come back and check on Smokey to make sure he gets out,” Tara Boals, a foster with Ruff Start Rescue, told KARE11. “He doesn’t even like to go out to the bathroom without his brother.”
Boals, who lives in Bloomington, Minn., said their previous owner was forced to sell his house and give up “his boys.” Taking over their temporary care, she promised the owner she’d make sure they stayed together.
“They will not leave here without each other,” she said. “If they have to stay here forever, until they are no longer with us, then that’s what’s going to happen.”
Because of Smokey’s blindness, the dogs need a quieter home with no stairs. Smokey is about 11; River’s slightly older.
You can learn more about Smokey and River, and donate to their care, at the Ruff Start Rescue website.
Posted by jwoestendiek April 16th, 2013 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: adopt, animals, blind, bloomington, deaf, dependence, dog, dogs, elderly, foster, friends, german shepherds, minnesota, old age, pets, river, smokey
The dog’s owner, a 78-year-old man who was arrested at the scene, told authorities his family didn’t want the dog and he didn’t know what to do with him.
Union Pacific Railroad officials say the incident took place April 2.
The train’s engineer witnessed someone placing something on the tracks and, once he saw it was a dog, stopped the train in Mecca.
A Union Pacific special agent arrived, untied the 10-month-old poodle-terrier mix and detained the man, CBS in Los Angeles reported.
Charges weren’t pursued because ”the man appeared to be confused, or senile and didn’t fully understand what he had done,” John Welsh of the Riverside County Department of Animal Services said in a statement.
The man was released to family members.
The dog, who was nicknamed Banjo, was taken to the Coachella Valley Animal Campus in Thousand Palms where he was examined, treated and bathed.
Anyone interested in adopting Banjo, can email: email@example.com.
Posted by jwoestendiek April 10th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: abandoned, adopt, adoptable, adoption, animal control, animals, banjo, california, confused, dog, dogs, elderly, emergency brakes, indio, mecca, mix, pets, poodle, rescued, riverside county, saved, terrier, tied, ties, tracks, train, union pacific, unwanted
Sheena Cornwell, a 28-year-old home health aide, hung the 15-year-old pit bull, named Lilly, by her collar and leash from a rafter in the garage, police said.
Cornwell lived in Des Moines with her boyfriend. He told police that she’d been annoyed with Lilly for two months, because the dog paced a lot.
“(Sheena) had complained about the dog before, but she never abused her,” Joshua VanDyke told the Des Moines Register. “She wanted to get rid of her, but she never said anything about doing something violent to her.”
Police reports indicate Lilly was barking in the garage when Cornwell left the room, returning a few minutes later to tell VanDyke, “She’s dead, I killed her.”
Animal control officers removed the dog from the home after police were called. Cornwell was charged with one count of animal torture.
ABC News reported Cornwell could face up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $6,250 if convicted.
(Photo: Des Moines Register)
Posted by jwoestendiek April 9th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animal, animals, cruelty, des moines, dog, dogs, elderly, garage, hangs, home health aide, hung, iowa, lilly, old, pets, pit bull, pit bulls, pitbull, pitbulls, rafters, sheena cornwell, woman
Today is my father’s 89th birthday and, while he’s spending it in a skilled nursing facility in Arizona, I expect he’ll see a friendly face or two, at least one of them canine.
Therapy dog Henry Higgins, who belongs to one of the physical therapists at Mission Palms, has formed a pretty close friendship with my dad — to the extent that my dog Ace, were he aware of it, would probably be jealous.
The closest we could come to a real visit from Ace was putting his image on the front of the sweatshirt that my father will be getting — probably a few days late – for his birthday.
But until he has Ace on his chest to wear on his chest it appears — at least from these pictures Henry’s owner sent me — he’ll have Henry to bring a smile to his face.
And, even though I’m thousands of miles away, and it’s not my birthday, mine, too.
(Photos: By Cristina Higgins)
Posted by jwoestendiek March 14th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aging, animals, assisted living, bill woestendiek, birthday, dog, dogs, elderly, happy birthday, henry, henry higgins, mission palms, pets, skilled nursing, therapy dogs, woestendiek
Ace and I had a visitor over the holidays — a highly vocal, but not too demanding 12-year-old mutt named Gracie.
My cousin and her husband in Charlotte were headed off on a cruise and they were having problems finding a petsitter for Gracie, who has never been kenneled. So I volunteered.
It wasn’t my first adventure in petsitting. I’d had a handful of canine guests in my home in Baltimore, and served as wrangler for three more while housesitting in Santa Fe. I’d learned, both times, that most issues that come up can be easily worked out, usually by the dogs themselves.
I decided they should eat in separate areas, just to be safe, so I’d fill one bowl, and call one dog. Both, because their names rhymed, came. When I said “stay,” both stayed. When I attached their names to the commands – ”Ace stay, Grace come” — that didn’t work either.
Finally, I got one to the porch, and fed the other inside, confusing them both in the process.
On day two, Gracie stopped eating entirely. Even blobs of liverwurst — in which her pills get hidden — had no appeal to her. Wanting her to get at least a little nutrition, I smeared peanut butter on her nose and let her lick it off.
Eventually, I broke out the most special of my special dog treats, and after a good sniffing, she decided to try one. On day three, she was eating normally again, and I’d figured out that feeding them both at the same time in the same place worked best.
By the second day, I’d noticed Gracie, who spent the first night on an extra dog bed, was eyeing mine. It’s only a foot off the ground, but she just stood by it, put her head on it and looked at it longingly. Being old and arthritic — her, not me – I gave her a boost and she spent almost the whole day there.
I worried that Ace, who likes my bed too, would take offense at her occupation of it, but, once I told him it was OK, he just jumped in and joined her.
If they were positioned right, there was plenty of room for both. With only minor repositioning, I could fit in, too.
For walks, I’d take them both on a short one, then give Ace a longer one. That seemed to suit them fine.
What I never totally figured out was Gracie’s whining/singing. She whines when she’s happy, she whines when she’s not. She whines when she wants something. She whines, I think, when she wants nothing at all, except maybe to hear her own voice.
Ace, puzzled by that behavior, quickly got used to it. At first, he’d rush to her side, but eventually — as I kept saying, “What is it, girl, what do you want?” — she became background music to him.
Just about every worry I had, when it came to the two of them, turned out to not be worth worrying about. As long as I supplied the food, water, walks and love, they’d easily figure out the rest — the less help from me, the better.
It’s us humans who make things complicated.
Posted by jwoestendiek January 8th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, attention, beds, behavior, complications, dog, dogs, elderly, feeding, grace, gracie, guest, humans, old, pet sitting, pets, petsitting, visitor, walks, whining, worries
The dogs are kept at a kennel at a home in Pineville that has been cited for a possible zoning violation.
“We were very recently made aware via a mailed notification that our current location may not be zoned for our rescue and the notification allows just 30 days to appeal,” Autumn Chandler, a Hope for All Dogs board member, told the Charlotte Observer.
Chandler, a 36-year-old registered nurse, is worried the dogs will end up in local shelters and face the possibility of being euthanized: “If the appeal is rejected, all animals will be removed from the property immediately by animal control and will face a certain death.”
The rescue, based at a home in the Old Whitehall neighborhood, received notice Dec. 4 that it must “cease and desist operating” within 30 days or face citations. While the rescue is a nonprofit organization, the city sees it as a commercial kennel, which zoning codes prohibit in residential neighborhoods.
While the group has been rescuing dogs for about five years, it was formally established this past summer, with a mission of sheltering and rehoming senior and special needs dogs of all breeds.
Many of the adoptable dogs can be viewed at www.hopeforalldogs.com. The organization holds monthly adoption events in several locations, including Blakeney Shopping Center.
Chandler said that if the zoning matter can’t be resolved, the group will try to adopt all of the dogs out quickly.
“We have worked so hard to rescue these sweet dogs. We cannot bear to stand by and watch them lose their lives because of this zoning issue,” she said. “I would like to make special plea to the Charlotte community that they consider adopting one of our very special animals. The love of a rescue is like no other.”
Posted by jwoestendiek December 21st, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adopt, adoption, animals, charlotte, disabled, dogs, elderly, hope for all dogs, north carolina, old, pets, pineville, rescue, senior, shelter, sick, violation, zoning
That’s about three times the average weight of a Labrador — and enough that it required four people using towels as slings to lift him when he arrived at the RSPCA’s Leybourne Animal Centre in Kent.
The 12-year-old dog was surrendered to the RSPCA by an elderly owner who kept forgetting he had already fed his pet, according to the Daily Mail.
(I am pretty sure I did that with Ace yesterday, giving him dinner twice.)
Alfie struggled to walk more than a few steps when he arrived, and he couldn’t lift his legs the few inches needed to get into a slightly raised bed at the kennel. He’s now about halfway to his target weight, staff members say.
“He literally could not stand up when he arrived because he was so fat,” said Christine Dooley, center manager. “I have never seen a dog that fat before in my 27 years with the RSPCA … He was just a massive blob with a leg at each corner. He was being fed to death …”
“When he first came in he couldn’t go on walks because of his size, but each day as the weight is coming off he is able to take a few steps further. We have to be careful when staff take him for a walk because if he sits down and refuses to get back up we have to call in extra people to lift him up again.
“We want the weight to come off slowly to give his leg muscles a chance to build up strength and for his skin to shrink … He’s such a lovely dog and his tail never stops wagging. Everyone here has fallen in love with him.’
Once Alfie has reached a manageable weight, the center will put him up for adoption.
(Photo: Ferrari Press Agency, via Daily Mail)
Posted by jwoestendiek September 6th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adoption, alfie, animals, britain, canine, diet, dog, dogs, elderly, fat, fattest, feeding, forget, forgot, kent, labrador, loss, obese, obesity, overfed, owner, pets, retriever, rspca, surrender, surrendered, uk, weight, yellow lab
Some take their dogs with them; some get family members to help out; some, unfortunately, have to surrender them.
But in Pennsylvania, there’s an ex-Marine lending a helping hand.
Kevin McCartin, who operates Paw Prints Dog Sanctuary & Canine Corps in Perry County, takes care of dogs for free for members of the military from Pennsylvania, no matter how long they’re away. Since establishing the service in 2007, McCartin has witnessed some 90 dog-owner reunions.
And he can assure you that dogs, when it comes to their owners, never forget.
Last weekend, Matthew Chapman and his wife, Debbi, returned from South Korea, where military orders sent them last February. When they reunited with their dog Dehlila, a four-year-old mixed breed, it was as if they’d been apart just a few days, as opposed to 13 months, the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported.
“She went right at them and went ballistic,” McCartin said. “She was all over them. We’ve had dogs up to 15 months, and it’s the same thing every time. The dogs go bonkers.”
While it’s heartwarming to watch, McCartin says he can’t help but feel a little upstaged when the owners come back.
Suddenly, he says, “We’re chopped liver. The dogs want to get right into the car and go home.”
The Chapmans headed for Georgia after picking up Dehlila, where they will be based at Fort Stewart for a while.
The Canine Corps website says it accepts donations, food, medication, cleaning products and other supplies. McCartin also takes in geriatric dogs from central Pennsylvania as part of his Paw Prints Dog Sanctuary.
“We are currently caring for six geriatric and special needs dogs and eleven military pets. Thirty-nine of our guests have been adopted into loving homes, and we have reunited 61 guests with their military owners,” the website says.
(Photo: Matthew Chapman and Dehlila, when he dropped her off at Canine Corps and Paw Prints Dog Sanctuary; by Joe Hermitt / Harrisburg Patriot-News)
Posted by jwoestendiek March 30th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, armed forced, boarding, boards, canine corps, cares, dehlila, deployed, deployments, dogs, elderly, geriatric, kennel, kevin mccartin, members, military, paw prints sanctuary, pennsylvania, perry county, pets, reunions, service