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Could this emotional support robot dog help dementia patients?

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KCLU
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Jenny is an emotional support robot dog

An entrepreneur from Ventura County was faced with having to take away his mother’s dog, when she became no longer able to take care of it, so he came up with a unique solution that would not only help her, but also help others with dementia.

Jennie is a cute golden retriever puppy, complete with soft fur, a wagging tail and a microchip.

She’s the brainchild of Westlake Village entrepreneur Tom Stevens – the CEO and co-founder of TomBot.

"Jennie is a fully interactive robotic emotional support animal. She will be the first to be both an FDA medical device and a remote safety and health monitoring platform," explained Stevens.

The puppy can express herself through mouth movements and barking, through eye movements and moving ears and a wagging tail.

"She can move her neck," Stevens told KCLU. "Much of the expressiveness of a dog is through the neck."

She is not just an adorable novelty. In fact, it was after Stevens’ own mother suffered from dementia that he started to design the robot dog.

"My mother, when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's dementia, lost her ability to safely take care of her dog.

"It got me wondering whether a substitute for a live animal would not only satisfy her but would be something we could actually do," said Stevens.

That launched Stevens on a multi-year research journey which culminated in him undertaking a Masters degree at Stanford.

"What I learned is that my mom's story wasn't unique. There are a lot of people that can't safely or practically care for a live animal.

"But it was also possible to produce something to make them happy," he said.

"One in ten people suffer from a serious mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression, chemical dependencies or PTSD," said Stevens.

"Another 100 million or so suffer from serious cognitive issues such as dementia, Down's Syndrome, autism - so it's approaching a billion people around the world that are affected in mental health in one way or another," he said.

Stevens says that research shows that where people can form a robust emotional attachment to objects, they get a "great deal of relief" from their mental health systems and corresponding need for drugs,

"She's designed to soothe anxiety, depression and loneliness and therefore reduce the need for medications," explained Stevens.

Jennie is still in the developmental stages, with this Jennie being a prototype – they’ve been working on making her look and feel as real as possible.

He teamed up with Jim Henson's Creature Shop, the people behind the Muppets, to design the dog.

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KCLU
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Ventura County entrepreneur Tom Stevens created the robot dog in response to watching his own mother's battle with dementia

Jennie the emotional support robot dog – doesn’t come cheap, at $499 – but Stevens says the goal is to have health insurance reimbursements in the future.

For now – there’s a waitlist, with the first dogs being shipped next year.

And one of the many advantages, of course, is you won’t have to scoop any poop!