‘Companion pets’ helping veterans with dementia

'Companion pets' helping veterans with dementia
Published: May. 10, 2022 at 5:08 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Research has shown the power of pets, offering a form of therapy by bringing joy to people’s lives and providing calming effects in a stressful situation.

A recent study by Florida Atlantic University found that patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia benefited from spending time with a robotic animal.

For Jack Durbin, an Air Force veteran living in Charleston, his new companion pet, “kitty” is changing his life for the better.

“He’s funny, funny, fun,” he said.

The robotic cat is very lifelike. Purring, meowing, moving, blinking and even rolling over for belly scratches.

Stephon Harris is his caregiver and said he was skeptical of the project at first, not sure what kind of difference it would make.

“He’s grown to it; he loves it,” Harris said. “Calms him down, especially during the hours of sundown, which for him are between the hours of 2 and 6. Works out for us so we can find time to cook and do all of the other things we need to.”

Harris said Durbin was always wanting to get up and move around and be “on the go.”

“I couldn’t believe the response I would get from him, but I was like wow, he’s really liking this,” Harris said.

Now, his cat keeps him grounded and rooted and less anxious in the afternoons and evenings.

“It definitely is priceless, no matter the expense, because it helps them a lot,” Harris said. “We don’t know what goes on in their brain, but he seems to be happy.”

Suzanne Luck is the program coordinator for the VA Medical Foster Care Program and says these types of long-term placements can help improve the quality of life for their patients.

“To see what kind of joy it brought Jack and what kind of joy it brought our other veteran resident here who watched Jack in all of his enjoyment,” she said.

The companion pets can be somewhat expensive, but they would like to expand the program to other patients as well.

To sponsor a Veteran Companion Pet, (cat or dog) you can contact: Teresa Boyes, Center for Development & Civic Engagement (CDCE) – (Voluntary Services) 304-429-6741, ext. 2952 or

To learn more about the VA Medical Foster Home Care Program (

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