TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A program launched by the Department of Elder Affairs (DOEA) during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in friendships for a group of seniors in St. Petersburg.

Seniors at The Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay received robotic companion pets from the DOEA through a partnership with Ageless Innovation Joy for All. A group of more than 20 residents now walk through their community with their “pets” together on a regular basis.

“The robotic pets have brought residents together in an interesting way,” said Delena Waters, Community Life Director at The Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay. “They’ve become a talking point among owners and seeing the pets around the community has prompted more residents to get one. In addition to being a great maintenance-free companion, they’re fun and entertaining and bring them joy.”

According to a press release, interest in the The Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay about the robotic dogs peaked in April 2021, around the same time the community opened a dog park. Many residents said they wanted a dog, but didn’t want the upkeep that came with a pet.

The community connected interested residents with the DOEA and helped them apply for the Therapeutic Robotic Pet Program.

Since launching the Therapeutic Robotic Pet Program, the DOEA has given away more than 7,000 robotic pets to seniors in Florida. The program ended in June, but the effects are still being seen.

“Many of our robotic pet owners are former dog owners,” said Waters. “And beyond the social interaction these pets have provided them, they’re happy to enjoy a dog’s charms without the labors of upkeep.”