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The adventures of Fergus and Molly

An innovative therapeutic pet program is bringing comfort, compassion and fun to Aged Care residents.

Meet Fergus and Molly, the newest and furriest residents at TriCare Point Vernon Aged Care Residence.

Fergus (the dog) and Molly (the cat) look, feel and sound like real animals. They respond to petting, hugging and motion. Pet Molly’s left cheek, for instance, and she’ll nuzzle your hand. Keep petting, and she’ll roll onto her back for a belly rub. She meows and purrs appreciatively, and her fur is soft to the touch. But, unlike a real cat, she doesn’t require any special care, feeding or expensive trips to the vet.

That, TriCare Point Vernon facility manager Lisa Boase says, is what makes Fergus and Molly the perfect pets for Aged Care residents.

“We are always looking for innovative ways to improve the quality of care we provide for our residents,” Ms Boase says. “To us, residents, relatives and staff are one family. We believe that the power of play can bring joy to people and enhance meaningful interactions with members of our family. This led us to bring the robotic companion pets to our home.

“Some of our family members have loved ones far away and they often find themselves feeling isolated. A cuddle with Fergus and Molly gives them a feeling of love and connection. We also have family members who are living with dementia and have found that Fergus and Molly offer tactile distractions which reminds them of their previous memories and experiences.”

Robotic companion pets — known in the medical community as socially assistive robots — have become popular therapeutic devices in Aged Care facilities around the world. Until recently, the most popular of these pets was Paro, a costly device modelled after a baby harp seal. The choice of an exotic animal for the robot’s model was deliberate, as designers reasoned that most people have never actually held a baby seal before, and wouldn’t be bothered by any inaccuracies.

Fergus and Molly, part of Hasbro’s new Joy For All range, face the tougher task of successfully imitating cats and dogs, domestic animals that virtually all of us are familiar with. If the reactions of the residents at TriCare Point Vernon are anything to go by, they’ve passed the test with flying colours.

“Since we’ve had Fergus and Molly in our home, we have been amazed at the way our residents have interacted with the animals,” Ms Boase says. “Because the animals react to touch and voice, there is a very real connection and emotional response. Our family members can show and receive love and affection from Molly and Fergus, and this is so important for their emotional well-being.”

Enjoying cuddles and companionship with Fergus and Molly gives residents a chance to smile, relax and engage with the world around them. Ms Boase says the interactive pet therapy program has helped to create a sense of community and belonging in the community.

“At TriCare Point Vernon, there is no limit to our imagination and we pride ourselves on our innovation,” she says. “We are committed to providing opportunities for our residents to engage and connect in a meaningful way.”