The pleasures of pet ownership aren’t available to everyone. Allergies, expenses, or even housing prohibitions can limit dog or cat adoption. But for patrons of a library system in Eugene, Oregon, it’s possible to enjoy the short-term company of a cat, albeit one that’s battery-powered.
According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, three robotic felines are in circulation at branches of the Eugene Public Library and are freely available for lending to anyone with a library card. And yes, each has a name: Mr. Pickles, Percival, and Bandit.
Library adult services supervisor Kate Berry told OPB that the cats were acquired partially as an alternative for patrons experiencing loneliness or memory issues and who may not be eligible for live pet ownership. But anyone can check out the cats, which mimic the real thing by purring and meowing upon being touched. (The purring, however, sounds more like a coffeemaker brewing.)
The cats have also proven appealing for library staff, who sometimes retreat on a break with one in tow. “We have a kind of quiet room [where] we have placed one of our cats,” staff member Heather Sears said. “Staff have actually really enjoyed that. Maybe you had a stressful part of your day or something’s happened and you just need a moment, and you can come hang out with one of our cats that are here that are not circulating.”
A number of affordable robotic cats have hit the market in recent years, including Hasbro’s Joy for All Companion Pets. And there may be some demonstrable benefits: A small 2021 study conducted by Florida Atlantic University looked at 12 adults with mild to moderate dementia who were given the cyber-pets. Cognition and mood were elevated in those spending time with the cats.
The Eugene Public Library carries an inventory of idiosyncratic items they’ve dubbed the Library of Things. In addition to the cats, the collection includes musical instruments, cookware, and games.