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Virtual therapy dog

April 16, 2020

In today’s grim world of social distancing and isolation, our computers, iPhones and iPads have turned to pretty much every kind of virtual reality known to mankind. In addition to the basic conversations held on Skype, FaceTime and Zoom, now there’s virtual dance parties, cocktail and happy hours, online family and alumni reunions, even online Scrabble games played by two or more individuals from their perspective pieces of digital machinery. These are all great ways to stay social, battle loneliness, and simply stay sane during coronavirus days.

Cruising through the Internet for other virtual ideas, I came across one perfect for me and my 4-year-old chocolate-colored pitbull-boxer named Bella: Apparently these days there are virtual therapy dogs that pose in front of a computer for others to imbibe their love and kindness, kind of like zoos that stream their animals live in their own habitat as they lie in the mud, nuzzle their offspring or eat from a tree.

In pre-virus days, therapy dogs visited people in hospitals and schools, nursing homes and even libraries where children read to the sleepy-looking pets. Their mission was simple: to sit or lie down peacefully while strangers in need of some TLC pet their backs, scratch their ears and blow air kisses. I thought Bella would be perfect. She’s a very tactile and gentle canine who loves a good tummy rub, a scratch behind her ears and pretty much just lies around all day. But she doesn’t like strangers petting her, so an in-person therapy dog career was not for her. But she’s a great virtual therapy pet who likes to lie in front of the computer and do nothing. Sure, it’s a lot better when someone can pet a dog or cat — petting is supposed to be therapeutic, after all. But happy hours and dance parties are also better when they’re in person. And that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

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