Nearly 2 billion people, including veterinary professionals, are using Facebook in 2018. This week Drs. Ernie Ward and Cyndie Courtney along with Beckie Mossor, RVT talk with Dr. Caitlin DeWilde about social media and her business, The Social DVM. The group discuss Caitlin's story of becoming a veterinarian, the recent changes to the Facebook News Feed algorithm, and practical advice for managing a veterinary clinic's Facebook Page.
Will Robot Pets Replace Real Dogs and Cats? Will advances in artificial intelligence and robotics lead to a decrease in pet ownership? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of AI or robotic pets? I went to the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas to find out.
Robot pets have been featured in science fiction for decades. Toy pets have captured the popular imagination over the past 20 years, with some products achieving incredible success. In November 1996, the Tamagotchi (Japanese for “egg” “watch”) was released and has sold over 76 million of these “handheld digital pets” worldwide.
In 1998, the Furby was released as the first “electronic robot toy.” Over 40 million sold from 1998-2001.
Ten years later, in 2008, ZhuZhu Pets, a plush robotic hamster toy was released. Touted as ‘the adorable robotic hamsters that don’t “poop, die or stink,” they sold over 70 million ZhuZhu Pets in four years, totaling over $2 billion in sales.
Sony released its AIBO (Artificial Intelligence Robot, homonymous with aibō, "pal" or "partner" in Japanese) May 1999 an updated it yearly until 2005. In 2018, they announced a significantly upgraded AI-Enhanced AIBO at CES.
There are numerous studies proving humans can make strong emotional bonds with robots and computer programs. And, of course, there are Furbis.
So can robotic or AI devices replace pets? If so, how much of an impact and over what period of time?
While it’s impossible to fully answer this question, we can look back at history. Whenever these robotic pets have made significant breakthrough and publicity, the public has purchased them. Of course, a Tagomotchi couldn’t necessarily replace a cat, but we haven’t seen a truly advanced personal assistant pet similar to AIBO yet.
The threats to pet ownership are real: 1) Rising cost to care for a pet - food, medical care, housing, and licensing, 2) Urbanization resulting in limitations on pet size, breed or species, 3) Time constraints - Busy lifestyles causing fewer to have the time to care for a pet.
Sony has made no secret they’re interested in creating robots an robotic pets to serve as meaningful personal assistants in addition to providing companionship. Imagine if your “pet” could also schedule your doctor’s appointment, get you a glass of water, and answer any question. These are some examples of the types of developments we can expect over the next 5 years.
What I can also tell you is that I was closely observing the people at CES who came to see AIBO in action. Nearly every face was beaming, smiling ear-to-ear, and genuinely interested in the “feelings” and abilities of AIBO. Sure, it’s easy to pass their brightly lit faces as novelty or curiosity, but, as a practicing veterinarian fo rover 25 years, I sensed something deeper. The only thing I can honestly relate the experience to was watching someone with a new puppy or baby.
It’s easy to dismiss these advances as affecting only a small portion of pet owners. I agree; I don’t expect robotic pets to replace warm-blooded furry friends any time soon. I do, however, expect them to cause a decline in global pet ownership. If robots, AI, Virtual Reality, cost of care, or any of a number of pressures cause a decline in pet ownership by 10%, that could have potentially devastating effects for the pet industry -- and veterinary professionals.
Even more troubling, how will these advances affect Generation Z and beyond? Faced with the choice between a puppy and a robotic pal that can play video games with them, teach a foreign language and help with homework, what will they choose? What will their parents choose?
The solution is for veterinary professionals to emphasize the positive benefits of pet ownership. Whether those benefits are improved health, decreased allergies, improved empathy or strengthening personal responsibility, we must proclaim them loudly and widely. Our organizations need to prioritize engaging Gen Z and ensuring today’s 3 to 7 year olds share their lives with animals.
I also think veterinarians need to appreciate pets as I do; I see pets as “Gateways to Nature.” Too many of the world’s children live completely disconnected from nature, raised on asphalt playgrounds, never seeing farms, wild animals, or experiencing nature. My belief is that pets can serve as an essential physical and emotional connection to nature. I think this is critical to preserving our environment and planet for future generations. Veterinary professionals need to partner with environmental advocates, wildlife experts and farmers. We need to make the humane care of all animals a priority and I believe pets are the foundation of this philosophy for many.
Will robot pets replace real dogs and cats? Yes, for some. For others, robotic pets and AI will enhance our relationship with the animals we love and care for. I envision a future where we leverage AIBO to help me make sure my cat is healthy, accompany me on walks with my real dog, and perhaps even alert my veterinarian when my bird is ill. I see a bright future full of all sorts of technological advancements and a dog and cat sharing my bed at night. Robots will sleep on the floor.
This week, Dr. Ernie Ward and Beckie Mossor, RVT talk with large animal veterinary nurse an equine nursing specialist Heather Hopkinson about the differences - and similarities - of large and small animal veterinary care. Heather shares her story of a young girl working at stables to earn horse riding lessons to becoming a pioneer and leader in the large animal veterinary technician world. Beckie and Heather recount their days together in veterinary technician school, how the veterinary nurse initiative (VNI) may affect large animal veterinary professionals, and the shared struggles of all animal advocates. The trio explore how compassion fatigue and burnout are different in the large animal world, how language and words affect emotions, and Heather explains why all veterinary nurses are at risk for attrition and unhappiness if they don’t find meaning and purpose within - and outside - the veterinary profession. This is a great conversation that applies to anyone working in the veterinary industry.
Fellow animal advocates, I've had an ongoing concern about many pets left outdoors during severe cold weather. You can help encourage changes in animal care ordinances by sharing verified stories of pets suffering or injured when left outdoors in cold weather. NOTE: This thread isn't intended to debate specific conditions or the care of particular pets, wildlife, or working dogs. My goal is to compile stories animal advocates can use when petitioning local municipalities and governments when creating animal care guidelines in order to save lives and unnecessary suffering. Thank you.
The veterinary profession is now dominated by women. This week we tackle the topic of veterinary professionals having children, bringing our kids into the clinic, and handling clients’ children during veterinary appointments. Co-hosts Drs. Ernie Ward and registered veterinary technician Beckie Mossor share tales of crates used as cribs, a mother who demands Dr. Ward share EVERYTHING with their child during an appointment, and then changes her mind, Beckie talks about vet techs being used as “babysitters” during exams, and Cyndie reviews her experiences as being a new mom intersects with practice life over the past few months. Dr. Ward discusses the importance of paid maternity leave for veterinary professionals, and the trio offer advice for anyone planning a pregnancy or wondering how to tell their boss.
This week we're joined by friend and colleague, Dr. Alex German from the University of Liverpool. Alex joins Drs. Ernie Ward and Cyndie Courtney, along with registered veterinary technician Beckie Mossor, to share his story of becoming a veterinarian, his experiences as a mixed animal practitioner, returning to academia to pursue his PhD and Internal Medicine Board Certification, and finding his passion in clinical research. Alex and Ernie discuss their combined efforts combating pet obesity, Cyndie prompts a discussion on weight bias, and Beckie relates the pressures veterinary nurses often encounter when dealing with pet obesity. The group discusses Alex's latest research publications, his work on dog and cat growth curves, and how these tools may help veterinarians prevent pet obesity. This is a wide-ranging conversation that touches on many issues veterinary professionals may struggle with during daily practice life. Do yourself a favor, and listen to this one all the way through!
A special “Howliday” episode of Off Label Veterinary News on Youtube. 1) Do animals kneel, face east, or talk at midnight on Christmas Eve? That's what my late grandmother told me when I was a child. 2) Do you know the story of the Donkey Cross? 3) Did you know a veterinarian wrote the holiday hit song, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer?" We tell the story. 4) Awkward Pet Holiday Photos!