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The Dogfather: Giving Us Paws for Thought
Posted 3/16/2011 6:35:54 PM by Patritzia Rossini - [Show All My Posts]
| The DogFather: Giving Us Paws for Thought |
By Traci Nubalo
One of the great joys of my years in Second Life has been the owning and training of my artificial intelligence dog, a gorgeous black lab named Bella. When we first got her I had no idea what an wonderful and fun adventure was about to unfold for me and my SL family. We took Bella home and found that she was a bit on the, shall we say, rambunctious side. She loved to run all over the sim, as any RL dog might. She loved to jump into the water which our SL home was next to. She even loved to sit in her food and water dishes, a trait that I knew from RL was peculiar to Labrador retrievers.
But she also had some rather irritating traits such as excessive barking and even a nasty, frightening growl that we really disliked, especially when company was visiting. We learned that this is where the AI aspect came in for the VKC dog. Whenever Bella did a behavior that we disapproved of we would type “Bella bad” into open chat. Similarly, positive behaviors would be rewarded with “Bella good”.
Over time we began to see changes in her. And over these few years Bella has become a fun, fascinating companion. But there’s a deeper tale to be told. After purchasing Bella we began to interact with an AI dog trainer named Vitolo Rossini. He’s also known as The DogFather.
Vito is a fun, 59-year-old guy who is the owner and operator of Dogland Park in Rhoda. We SL dog owners know him as someone who is passionate about the dogs and their owners and is always willing to help by answering questions, holding training classes and generally being a source of information and inspiration. Those of us who know him all agree that a more kind and fun-loving soul is to be found nowhere else in Second Life. On more than a few occasions we were delighted by his friendliness and willingness to spend as much time as necessary to make our dog-owning experience all it could be. He would even end each visit bowing from the waist saying, “Bowing with respect.“ As I got to know Vito more he began to open up to me about his past and how he became The DogFather.
In 2003 Mr. Rossini was a practicing martial arts teacher in Tucson, AZ who spent his days happily selling ice cream from his neighborhood truck. One day at work he was run over by another vehicle. In that instant Vitolo Rossini became a victim of TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). He spent 6 ½ weeks in a coma and two more years in rehabilitation. While being driven to an appointment one day he struck up a conversation with his Paramedic Services driver thus meeting his current wife of four years Patty.
In a recent chat he described the condition in which this horrible accident has left his body: “I am currently partially paralyzed on my left side. I have moderate to severe spasticity, primarily on the left side of my entire body, but it moves to the right side as well. I walk with the assistance of a walker (or dual canes) and I have chronic double vision, which is corrected by prisms in my glasses.”
Rossini also says that he suffers from short-term memory loss and is in a great deal of pain. He takes medications to control the spasticity and pain, but finds that sufficient pain meds seem to dull his mind. So he chooses to live in significant pain, but he’s able to stay alert.
In 2006 Vito discovered SL, and found a world perfectly suited to his limitations. He found that he could function fully in SL, and do things that impossible for him in RL. Using this new-found freedom he quickly got involved with AI dogs and their owners, discovering that he had a knack for the scripting languages used in the virtual pets. Soon he had created Dog Park and developed the TBI Center that flies above it. Other TBI patients heard about Vito’s work in SL and followed him here. Many of them purchased AI dogs and began attending the numerous training classes offered by him.
Some amazing things began to happen. At first Vito got reports that the TBI patients who had AI dogs were beginning to experience new and different kinds of dreaming experiences, often followed by positive emotional changes in life. Vito: “Owning and training a dog in SL creates a form of relationship between person and the K9. This shift in focus distracts a resident from the pressure that often accompanies learning; he is able to achieve learning without stress. A reason for this is that the participant feels as though he is playing with and loving a pet, rather than mentally putting emphasis on the often-scary process of learning new concepts.
“Second Life gives us (TBI patients) a new chance to function. We have notes to remind us of what we are doing, and a handy inventory window which reminds us of our tools. We are more able to function independently, and these tools offer us helpful assistance. As we use the tools and increasingly learn to function independently, our brains begin to build new neural pathways - new synaptic connections. This results in people finding new ways to think and function."
I asked Vito what it is about Second Life (and other virtual worlds) that attracts millions of us, whether physically-challenged or not. “There are no limits as we traverse the metaverse; there are fewer physical or personal constraints,” he replied. “When one becomes an avatar they also become free, in a sense. One finds a place where he can be amazed, or even just begin to feel comfortable within once again. We begin to make friends more easily and start to enjoy learning about others. Communication is of great value to all human beings and even more so to those who are home bound via injuries and for other reasons. And SL fills this need!”
At this point I felt like we had moved universes away from AI dogs and K9 training classes. The conversation had morphed into a fascinating new look at virtual worlds and their potential uses as platforms for personal growth and change.
The DogFather then made a startling claim: he believes that at least half of SL residents are in some way at least partially bound to the home. This shocked me until he pointed out that being “home bound” needn’t mean living in a wheelchair.
He wisely stated, “There are the physically homebound - but there are also the emotionally homebound, and the spiritually homebound residents. The physically homebound encompass many disabling conditions. But some people feel like they can't face the public for whatever reasons - valid or not. Emotionally homebound people have thoughts within that do not allow them to feel comfortable out in public: ‘I am too ugly,’ ‘I am not good enough,’ ‘I am stupid.’ Some are afraid of strangers, some of germs.
A person becomes spiritually homebound when they find that there is nothing that they have in common with others. They feel that they ‘can't relate’, and so they withdraw. In each of these cases, Second Life allows some interaction with a ‘world’ and with real people. It‘s a ‘window to the world’ in more ways than we might be aware of. ”
It dawned on me that most men and women in the world exhibit symptoms of such spiritual malaise. Essentially, we are lonely. We are seeking connection - every one of us. And for most of us finding deep connection in what we call the “real world” is becoming as increasingly-difficult process.
Yet, from the adversity that befell one simple man springs a vision of a greater Awareness. Via the unexpected vehicle of pixel pets many of us are finding fresh avenues to happier lives. New vistas in personal growth are appearing and many are finding freedom in areas that once felt restricted.
Perhaps you’ll decide to pay a visit to Rhoda, where you’ll find dozens of AI dogs to play with and be amazed by. You might choose to teleport to the TBI Center high in the sky above Dog Park or spend some peaceful time in the gorgeous meditation area adjoining the Center. But by all means make it a point to get to know the man whose wisdom and vision is quietly changing and enriching so many troubled lives on a daily basis.
Vito Rossini will tell you that the six-and-a-half weeks he spent in a coma brought him to his true potential to live his life in service to others. He will tell you that practicing good karma in SL is as important and effective as it is in first life. And he will ask you to always be aware of the fact that the avatar you are interacting with online may be suffering some very real physical, emotional or spiritual challenges that you will never know about.
And this guru-in-disguise will ask you to remember that each moment in Second Life is a gift and an opportunity. We are given this new life and we are offered the chance to create our virtual world in a way that centers us in peace and understanding of one another.
There is only one Dogland Park. It is a 63000+ meter dog park located in Rhoda
Copyright © 2011 Traci Nubalo/PURE Magazine. All rights reserved.
*NOTE- Vitolo Rossini is an Independent Virtual Dog Specialist, not employed by VKC. Dogland Park similarly is an Independent Dog Park, not owned by any Company.
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Posted at 5:00:43 PM on 3/16/2011 by elen
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