st. PETERSBURG, FL—At The Her Fountain in Boca Siega Bay, it’s all about man’s best friend. Dogs bark, yawn, and wag their tails, but these furry friends are unlike any other dog. they are robots.
What started early in the pandemic as a way to combat COVID isolation has brought new joy and exploration to this elderly community.
“It took me a while to realize that he was a robot,” said Jack Rickert.
Rickert said he takes his dog Buddy with him wherever he goes, just like his previous pets. Buddy may not be a real dog, but he gives Jack that same sense of well-being.
“It’s like walking with someone close to you,” he continued. “It’s a buddy, he’s my buddy. He’s with me.”
Likert isn’t the only one with robot puppies.
The Florida Department of Aging has launched a campaign to give seniors like Likert and Sue Quigley a friend during the COVID-19 quarantine.
“I was honestly thinking about getting a little dog, and I’m really glad I did,” Quigley said. “But then I got to know these dogs. You don’t have to take them with you, so they are the perfect dogs.”
COVID restrictions have been lifted, but dogs are still at the heart of the fun time at Fountains.
Regularly see groups of about 20 seniors walking, enjoying happy hour, playing games and singing (Rickert was in a quartet band when he was younger). Seniors are always accompanied by friends.
“I think dogs have become a real social phenomenon in this area,” said Community Life Director Delena Waters. She “has seen it grow almost exponentially over the past year.”
She said these dogs gave residents more than she could have imagined.
“In general, I think one of our biggest goals in the community living sector is to foster a sense of connectedness,” Waters continued. “Not only among individuals, but among entire communities. I honestly think these dogs could have done that for us.”
The newly formed connection is so deep that Likert and Quigley are planning a dog wedding.