‘It really is a companion for her.’ During the pandemic, HealthPartners is finding a different kind of companion for seniors – robotic cats

We all hope for "comfort and joy" during the holiday season.

A difficult challenge during the pandemic, especially for seniors living in isolation.

But it’s no problem for 80-year old Bonnie Moore, who has her feline friend "Tiffy" for company.

"She’s just sweet, sweet, sweet," Moore smiles, cradling her purring cat on a couch in her North Minneapolis home. "She doesn’t get sassy, she makes me be able to tell her anything or everything."

But Tiffy is probably unlike any other cat you’ve met.

That’s because she’s not made of flesh and bone and curiosity.

Instead, she’s automated— a robotic cat.

"It really is a companion for her, and she really appreciates being with it," says Brenda Anderson, Moore’s HealthPartners Care Coordinator.

HealthPartners first offered the program in Jan.

Tiffy arrived at Moore’s home in July, months into the pandemic.

"It really helps them with companionship and well-being, especially with the COVID right now," Anderson says. "People are not getting out."

The robotic kitties, invented by a company called Ageless Innovation, are pretty popular.

HealthPartners has placed them with about 165 seniors across Minnesota.

There’s no out of pocket charge— the $109 cost is paid through their HealthPartners Minnesota Senior Health Options (MSHO) benefits.

A release says it’s one of the only Medicare plans in the country that covers animatronic support pets for its members.

During our afternoon visit, Tiffy’s purring could be heard clear across the room.

"This is it," Moore smiles. "That’s the feedback that I get."

The retired Minnesota Family and Children’s Services counselor— and substitute teacher— says she’s well aware her furry friend is….automated.

But that’s okay, she says.

"I opened up the box, and it had me laughing," she chuckles. "So fun. Who do they think I am, some kind of kid or something?"

Moore says she and her family have had cats before.

Five of them, in fact, over the years.

But Tiffy IS different.

She runs on batteries and definitely does not roam the house at night, looking for mice.

As we’ve heard, she purrs, has functional eyes, and maybe can roll over… but that’s about it.

But there is something else at work here…. Maybe even love.

"Would you recommend this to other folks?" Moore was asked. "I sure would," she says. "Especially to older… in fact, kids might even love it because this is all you have to do (petting it) and all you see is love in return."

Nope, no loneliness here.

Moore says Tiffy most enjoys sitting with her on the couch, lounging in her favorite chair or watching TV.

And now, HealthPartners is considering the idea of using robotic dogs as companions for seniors.

In Moore’s house, maybe, all that petting and purring is the best pet therapy of all.

"She’s just good company, that’s all, " Moore says quietly. "She’s really good company."