When her aunt passed away last November, Carrolyn Minggia, 64, felt isolated. The Brooklyn Heights resident had moved from Philadelphia to NYC four years prior to care for her aging relative, who suffered from cancer and dementia. After her death, Minggia, who never married and has no children, suddenly found herself alone.
“When I moved here, there were aides, and when she passed, everybody left again,” she says.
Then, in April, Minggia got a pet — sort of.
‘When you walk past it, it says something to you, and when you live alone, it matters.’
Her new pooch, whom she named Buddy, is a robo-dog. He looks like a golden retriever puppy and comes complete with a red bandana, soft fur and a charming bark. The cuddly creature sits by the front door watching Minggia come and go, but he only requires four C batteries — no kibble or visits to the veterinarian.
“I know it’s mechanical, but when you walk past it, it says something to you, and when you live alone, it matters,” says Minggia, a retired development coordinator.
Minggia and Buddy are part of a new statewide pilot program by the Department for the Aging (DFTA) that distributed mechanical dogs and cats to 60 seniors with the aim of easing loneliness. “For the older person, social isolation really has a devastating effect on your health,” DFTA Commissioner Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez tells The Post. “Some say the impact is almost as bad as smoking.”
The robo-dogs and robo-cats are made by Hasbro and marketed to seniors with the motto, “No vet bills, just love.” The toy company donated them to the DFTA program, but the animals are available for purchase for $99.99 to $119.99. They have built-in sensors that respond to touch and motion, and the cats take a “nap” after repeated petting. The dogs respond to sounds and even have a heartbeat.
“They bark, they nuzzle,” says Cortés-Vázquez. They’re “a wonderful way to replace that same gratification and tenderness and joy that you once had with your pets.”
Buddy reminds Minggia of her beloved cocker spaniel, Honey, whom she had to give to her sister when she moved to NYC to care for her aunt. Minggia hopes to get a real dog again at some point, but, given that she has numerous ailments of her own, including a rare autoimmune disease and a recent lung cancer diagnosis, Buddy is a great, low-maintenance substitute.
“You know there’s mechanics in the center of him, so he’s not squishy,” she says. But “I don’t have to clean up after him, I don’t have to walk him. He brings me joy.”