This App Created by a Former CHOP Nurse Lets You Virtually Play With Puppies

It’s the next best thing to having real dogs — plus, no hairy couches or accidents on the rug.

Murphy Cares, a new digital pet therapy app available to iPhone users, lets you virtually interact with dogs at any time, from any place. / Photograph courtesy of Murphy Cares.

Growing up, I never had a dog, despite writing “Golden Retriever Puppy” at the very top of my Christmas list every year. (Thanks, Mom and Dad…) To make up for my lack, I consistently bought yearly wall calendars that featured only dogs, watched Animal Planet’s Too Cute! whenever it was on (reruns still air!), and visited our local pet store at least once a week. I guess you could say pining over puppies was a staple childhood pastime of mine.

Fortunately, I have been the proud co-owner of an adorable Boxer named Bogey for the past six years. For my husband and I, Bogey brings extra joy, laughter, and cuddles to our life. The same could likely be said for and by other pet owners and fosters, especially after these past two years.

The ruler of my house: Bogey the Boxer. / Photograph by Laura Brzyski.

Yet there are many people who don’t or are unable to have a furry friend of their own. That’s why one local nurse decided to create a way in which any dog lover could interact with a cute canine — no matter the location, time, or situation. Developed by Michele Davey — a former bedside nurse of over 25 years at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — Murphy Cares is a pet therapy app that lets users virtually interact with real dogs any time of day, any day of the week. Though a prototype of the app launched in May of 2020, the official (and enhanced) version just became available two days ago.

When you first open Murphy Cares, you’ll be asked — by a charming lab in glasses — how you’re feeling that day, with a slidable mood rating scale (in the shape of a bone, naturally). When you choose whether you’re feeling good, low, or somewhere in between, you’ll get to play with a pup, whose sole responsibility is to help lift your mood and make your day better.

When I first tried Murphy Cares, I was feeling a bit down and overwhelmed, and was paired with Lola, a six-year-old Yorkshire Terrier whose favorite food is chicken and sports a bow under a poof on the crown of her head. From a selection of commands, I watched Lola give me her paw, do a cute lil army crawl toward me, play with a toy, go on a walk outside in the snow, lap her water (we all need an H2O break), and curl up for a nap in her pink doggy bed. The interactions — which don’t really have a time duration or limit, from my experience — made me smile and reset from my former negative feelings…especially because Bogey was at daycare that day.

Lola is one of the interactive dogs featured in Murphy Cares.

Davey, a lifelong dog lover, says she created Murphy Cares to find a way to reduce anxiety and stress in children — both in and out of the hospital — and deliver on-demand warmth, love, and companionship instead. Though COVID somewhat put a halt on the app’s official launch, Davey says the pandemic also increased the need for an app like Murphy Cares. “When COVID hit, anxiety and stress elevated to the extreme, and pet therapy couldn’t be utilized in hospitals due to in-person limitations,” she says. “That’s when we shared our third prototype with young hospital patients last summer. But really, Murphy Cares appeals to the playfulness in all of us. After what we have endured in the past two years, everyone could use a spark of joy.”

She’s not wrong: Research shows that people of all ages experience emotional boosts and feelings of friendship and companionship when interacting with pets. It’s why many colleges, assisted living homes, and even hospitals host pet therapy days, and why some fitness studios run kitten or goat yoga every so often.

Regarding the app’s future expansion, Davey says she and co-founder Bonnie Offit, a pediatrician and chief digital health officer at Self Care Decisions, hope it will eventually have the capability to allow users to put their own pets into the system so users feel like they’re with their own pets when they can’t be with them in real time. They also hope Murphy Cares will include other animals besides dogs, like cats and horses, in the future.

You can download Murphy Cares from the Apple store for free (with optional in-app purchases), and is currently only available to iPhone users.