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Robot Therapy Dogs Designed To Help Patients Who Can't Care For Real Pets

(CBSMiami) -- We have all heard of therapy dogs, but what about a robot therapy dog?  "Jennie" is a prototype robot therapy dog designed to help patients who are unable to care for a real pet.

"Jennie" is a product of the company Tombot.  Tom Stevens started the business after his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and her beloved dog had to be taken away.

"My mom was devastated, so I started looking at substitutes for live animal companions," Stevens said.

Dennis Kerr has Parkinson's disease and has difficulty moving and speaking. Kerr's daughter Autumn says "Jennie" could be a calming force for her father.

"You can just pet her. She's not active and all over the place.  Sometimes with pets, they can get a little rambunctious," Kerr says.

USC's Dr. Maja Mataric says therapy pets may help patients cope with loneliness, anxiety and stress.

According to Dr. Mataric, "There are now increasing numbers of studies that show that people really thrive and feel better when they have some amount of physical contact in their lives."  And there's some evidence robotic companions can do the same.

"Jennie" barks and wags her tail just like a real dog.  She also responds to touch, creating a connection for people like Dennis.

The synthetic fur for the robo-dogs was created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, which produces The Muppets.

The robots are expected to go on the market next year for about $450.

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