Cats Make Purrfect Therapy Pets

therapy-cat

Guest post by Mary Kennedy

I’m a writer, a psychologist, and a cat lover. And sometimes the three worlds mix. I created two fictional cats (Barney and Scout in the Dream Club Mysteries*) and I have eight adorable rescued cats at home. Both my fictional cats and my own fur babies have many traits in common; they spend their days bird-watching, playing and of course, sleeping. I always feel calm, centered and happy when I’m with my cats; there’s something peaceful and comforting about their presence.

When I visited an assisted living facility, I found myself chatting with the residents about animals. Everyone was eager to share stories about their pets and the nurses told me how much they enjoyed weekly visits from a therapy dog. But where were the therapy cats? A social worker admitted that no one had ever suggested it and she seemed surprised that so many of the residents were confirmed cat lovers. If a dog can be a therapy animal, why not a cat? I wondered.

lion-cut-cat

I quickly decided that this was a project I could tackle. The first question I asked myself was this: would any of my own cats work out as a therapy cat? I took a long look at my unruly brood. (I have eight indoor cats and several of them are semi-feral). One of them, a large orange tabby named Henry, was practically a sociopath until I tamed him. Shadow, a long-haired Himalayan, has a sweet personality, but dislikes being picked up and squeals noisily in protest. Calpurnia, a stunning calico, is simply too skittish and it’s almost impossible to catch her. . I found her when she was four months old and I’ve never been able to really socialize her.

calico-cat

I went down the list of the other cats and made an executive decision. Only one of my cats would be suitable; a sweet, mild-mannered female cat I rescued from a vacant lot. Snow white, with an alert, intelligent expression, “Lucky” was one of the most laid-back cats I’ve ever owned. I decided to try her out right away as a “therapy cat.” Admittedly, it would have been better if I could have found a training group for her, but at that time, none existed, so I had to wing it.

I put a bright scarf on her neck and brought her with me the next time I visited. Lucky was a huge hit. I took her in to see the Director of Admissions and she was amazed that Lucky sat quietly next to me on the sofa while we chatted. Once I had the green light, I took her onto the unit. The residents took turns holding her, petting her and telling her what an amazing cat she was. Lucky loved every minute of it. Once I’d broken the ice with Lucky, it opened the door for other cat visitors.

I learned a few things along the way that I’d like to share with you.

  • Cats can be wonderful therapy animals because they provide a sense of peace and contentment. Lucky knew how to live “in the moment,” and seemed to enjoy every situation she was in. The residents were happy to see her, no matter what she was doing, even if she was just sitting on a windowsill, bird-watching or taking a quick cat nap.
  • Residents love spending time with cats because it gives them a sense of companionship they once had and brings back happy memories.
  • Be mindful that some residents might be allergic to cats and be sure to check with the social worker, activity director or nursing supervisor before bringing a cat onto the unit.
  • Be sure to ask a resident if you may bring your visiting cat into their room. The resident might be in pain, tired, or just having a bad day. Always be respectful of their privacy.
  • Don’t allow the residents to give treats to your cat, unless you have already modified your cat’s diet to allow treats. Weight gain in cats is a serious issue.
  • Don’t overstay your welcome. About fifteen minutes is enough time for a cat to visit in a resident’s room. I always would visit the “activity room” at the end of the morning, so everyone would have a chance to enjoy Lucky.

You’ll be surprised how much you’ll look forward to visiting with your therapy cats. It’s a two-way street and you’ll enjoy it as much as the residents.

Mary Kennedy is the author of the Dream Club Mysteries* and the Talk Radio Mysteries* from Penguin-Random House. She is a psychologist on the east coast where she lives with her husband and eight rescued cats. You can visit her at http://www.marykennedy.net.

Coming Friday: Enter to win a cat tote and an autographed copy of
Mary Kennedy’s new releast Dream a Little Scream

cat-tote-bag

*FTC Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Associate links. This means that if you decide to purchase through any of our links, we get a small commission. We only spread the word about products and services we’ve either used or would use ourselves.

45 Comments on Cats Make Purrfect Therapy Pets

  1. Jeanne
    August 7, 2015 at 1:01 am (5 years ago)

    I really enjoyed this article. I have 5 cats and I know how they make me feel better when I am ill or just having a bad day.

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 7, 2015 at 7:29 am (5 years ago)

      Hi Jeanne, we are kindred spirits, that’s for sure!! A cat can always bring a smile to my face. Thanks for stopping by

      Reply
  2. Michelle Fidler
    August 6, 2015 at 4:21 pm (5 years ago)

    We had a cat who was feral. She ended up living indoors — Blackie. My dad let her in once because it was cold outside. I finally got her out, maybe with the broom, but later on my dad must’ve let her in again. So she became part of the family. Later on we got to touch her, but only when she was sandwiched in between other cats. She would shy back but wouldn’t try to scratch or anything.

    We have five cats now. All the cats we’ve ever had were strays that we found in our backyard.

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 6, 2015 at 5:17 pm (5 years ago)

      Michelle, it is amazing how many feral/stray cats are lurking in our yards. One of my friends asked a local rescue group for help in trapping and neutering a couple of feral cats he was feeding. He wasn’t quite sure where they were hiding in the yard, so the rescue group left several traps. To their amazement, 22 cats were trapped!! All were in need of help, so it was just as well it worked out that way. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  3. Margie Senechal
    August 6, 2015 at 1:25 am (5 years ago)

    I loved this post! I never thought about cats as therapy but it makes purrfect 🙂 sense. We only have two cats–both too skittish around anyone but family to do that but maybe someday we’ll actually have a friendly cat. And like yours, one of our cats was a feral kitten when we got her–which is why she stays holed up in one room most of the time avoiding our new chihuahua/shih tzu puppy.

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 6, 2015 at 6:59 am (5 years ago)

      Hi Margie, so glad you liked the article. Some day you might have a cat who would be perfect as a therapy-cat, you never know!

      Reply
  4. Allison Herndon
    August 5, 2015 at 9:56 pm (5 years ago)

    I took my cat Tobey in to visit my mother when she was in rehab a couple of years ago. He was a Rock Star! People just loved him! I wanted to turn him into a therapy cat, but the only certified trainer/tester in the state stopped doing it. Unfortunately, for most nursing homes/rehabs/assisted living places in VA, you have to have a certified therapy cat. Certification is actually fairly easy – tougher for the human than for the cat – but you have to have someone to do the certification testing. I’m still disappointed.

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 6, 2015 at 7:00 am (5 years ago)

      Allison, that is so disappointing! I know that some states have stricter laws on this, and it is discouraging for people who want to help. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  5. Barbara Hawk
    August 5, 2015 at 8:59 pm (5 years ago)

    What a wonderful idea. Therapy cats are sure to be loved at many facilities. Thank you for sharing your experience!

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 6, 2015 at 7:01 am (5 years ago)

      Hi Barbara, thanks so much for stopping by, glad you liked the article. I really love Ingrid’s site. Loads of good info cat lovers.

      Reply
  6. Leanne
    August 5, 2015 at 7:50 pm (5 years ago)

    Great article! My cat Vinny is a registered therapy cat, and visits a local nursing home. I agree cats can make great therapy animals. I’m told he is always the talk of the afternoon when we visit the nursing home!

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 6, 2015 at 7:02 am (5 years ago)

      Leanne, Vinny sounds terrific!! I know he brings a lot of joy to everyone!

      Reply
  7. Brenda
    August 5, 2015 at 5:47 pm (5 years ago)

    Great post. Fascinating tale. Love the cat pix too. There definitely need to be more therapy cats!!

    Thanks for the chance of winning too!!!

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 5, 2015 at 5:50 pm (5 years ago)

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Brenda, it was such a wonderful experience and I wish more people would try it.

      Reply
  8. Toni
    August 5, 2015 at 5:43 pm (5 years ago)

    I love this idea! Good for you for seeing a need and a way to fill it. My fur babies are not social enough to interact with other people, but you took that into account when you made your decision.

    Happy book birthday!

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 6, 2015 at 7:04 am (5 years ago)

      HI Toni, I think I enjoy the visits as much as the residents. I have to say, most of my cats wouldn’t be good candidates, they are sweet fur-babies, but way too skittish. It takes a really special cat. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  9. Becky Hubbard
    August 5, 2015 at 5:28 pm (5 years ago)

    I’ve had many cats. The “caring” cat isn’t odd, it’s just special. I’ve had a couple of those. They can give so much joy and comfort when you need them (and even when you don’t). They are not for everyone but for those that do need them, they are awesome.

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 6, 2015 at 7:06 am (5 years ago)

      HI Becky, I feel the same way. When one of my cats passed away, I was devastated. I had just come home from the vets and was sitting at the kitchen table, doing my best not to cry. One of my special cats, Siggy, came over and rested his forehead against mine for a long, long time. He just remained motionless like tha,t as if to say, “It’s okay, you can lean on me.” It was very touching.

      Reply
  10. Mari Krampach
    August 5, 2015 at 4:49 pm (5 years ago)

    My cats are my extended family, sometimes I can be disapointed by my children but never my cats.

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 5, 2015 at 5:24 pm (5 years ago)

      Mari, I absolutely agree! Cats are amazing, wonderful creatures who never disappoint! Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  11. Trana Simmons
    August 5, 2015 at 3:37 pm (5 years ago)

    What a great idea: therapy cats. Cats are wonderful animals.

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 5, 2015 at 5:23 pm (5 years ago)

      Hi Trana, thanks for stopping by. You are not only a writer, but a dear friend and a super pet lover!

      Reply
  12. H. Harra
    August 5, 2015 at 3:31 pm (5 years ago)

    You have – gasp – 8 cats !!? That’s a lotta kitty litter. I am down to one these days. Once upon a time I and my kids had quite a few. When I had pneumonia they each took a corner of my bed and stayed with me during the worst of it. A nice floppy doll cat or maybe even a Maine coon could make good traveling therapy cat.

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 5, 2015 at 5:22 pm (5 years ago)

      You are so right! Eight cats means a lot of (gasp!) litter boxes. Martha Stewart would probably have an aneurysm if she saw my house. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  13. Dr. Sharon Jacobs
    August 5, 2015 at 2:16 pm (5 years ago)

    Great story. So pleased you took the initiative and brought your cat to the assisted living facility as a therapy cat. You brought joy to the residents of the facility as well as to people reading your blog and thinking about how they can also help others with their cat. As a fellow psychologist and pet lover, I agree that pets bring companionship, love and laughter into our lives.

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 5, 2015 at 5:21 pm (5 years ago)

      Hi Sharon, thanks so much for stopping by! It was a great experience, very rewarding. I would like to encourage every cat owner, cat lover to give it a try. Every cat might not be the ideal candidate, but you never know.

      Reply
  14. Sandy Hemsher
    August 5, 2015 at 11:54 am (5 years ago)

    I foster cats and have been pretty sick for over a year. These animals sure have helped my recovery!!!!

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 5, 2015 at 12:31 pm (5 years ago)

      Sandy, I am so sorry to hear you’ve been ill (but I’m happy to know that your cats were a comfort to you, I feel the same way!) Thanks so much for stopping by.

      Reply
  15. Kathy Gonzales
    August 5, 2015 at 11:34 am (5 years ago)

    What a wonderful article ! I have always had cats , they are the most wonderful companions , and good for your mental health too ! Thank you so much for an enjoyable read !

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 5, 2015 at 12:32 pm (5 years ago)

      Hi Kathy, thank you for the kind words about my article. It was really a pleasure to see the smiles on the residents’ faces when my adorable little Lucky appeared. It was the highlight of their week (and also, of mine!).

      Reply
  16. Elizabeth Dent
    August 5, 2015 at 10:49 am (5 years ago)

    I think cats are so pretty and I believe they would make a good therapy cat for people of all ages . I just wish that I was not allergic to cats . Every time I get around one I start to itch and scratch . I do love reading about them in books . Thanks , love your giveaway .

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 5, 2015 at 12:34 pm (5 years ago)

      Hi Elizabeth, one of my dear friends is allergic to cats–wildly allergic–and she can’t even step into my house, It is really a shame. Happy you like reading about cats in books. Barney and Scout in the Dream Club Mysteries don’t really do much–they aren’t magical, they aren’t detectives, but they are very sweet housecats who love their “guardians,” Ali and Taylor.

      Reply
  17. Laura F.
    August 5, 2015 at 10:31 am (5 years ago)

    There were resident cats in the nursing facility where my mother lived after her stroke. They used to let me pet them when I visited and it always made me feel better.

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 5, 2015 at 12:35 pm (5 years ago)

      That’s interesting, Laura. I wish there were resident cats in more assisted living facilities, I think they would really cheer everyone up!

      Reply
  18. Michelle Gross
    August 5, 2015 at 10:08 am (5 years ago)

    What a cool idea! I have four rescue cats (a mama, her son, and two more kittens from her second litter. Her son is also Lucky but he’s a black cat 🙂

    Reply
    • mary kennedy
      August 5, 2015 at 12:37 pm (5 years ago)

      It’s funny how we adopt whole families of cats, isn’t it, Michelle? I rescued Eliza (who gave birth to five kittens on my glassed-in porch) and earlier I had rescued her kitty from another litter who was playing in my yard. After I rescued Eliza, I also rescued her “baby Daddy” who was lurking around outside. He was a bit of a challenge (I had to trap him) but now he is a happy, contented house cat. And his days as a ladies’ man are over, too!

      Reply
  19. Mary Kennedy
    August 5, 2015 at 9:33 am (5 years ago)

    So happy to be a guest on The Conscious Cat! I am thrilled to be in the company of cat lovers and a big than-you to Ingrid for inviting me. I hope everyone looks into the possibility of “therapy cats,” it’s fun and rewarding. You will bring smiles to a lot of faces.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 5, 2015 at 12:17 pm (5 years ago)

      My pleasure, Mary!

      Reply
  20. Mommywoman
    August 5, 2015 at 4:45 am (5 years ago)

    Our family cat, Schrödinger, proved herself when she hastened my healing following six surgeries in three years! She also lowered my blood pressure and learned to detect when my blood sugar drops to unacceptable levels and wakes me up to eat something! She has since selected me as her person and protects me like a German Shepherd. She’s a Calico, so we all know how centered they become on their one person, to the exclusion of all others.
    She still loves me alone and only tolerates my Sweetie, he is, after all, the Provider of Meals to us both!

    Reply
    • Mary Kennedy
      August 5, 2015 at 9:35 am (5 years ago)

      Schrodinger sounds wonderful! A neighbor told me her cat never left her bedside when she sick–it was so comforting. And I know exactly what you mean about being a “special person” to a cat. Very strong bond there. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  21. Summer
    August 5, 2015 at 4:19 am (5 years ago)

    My human is getting serious about getting me certified as a therapy cat, and this is just another reminder for her! There are cat lovers out there who need me, I know!

    Reply
    • Mary Kennedy
      August 5, 2015 at 9:36 am (5 years ago)

      Very happy to hear that you are going to be a therapy cat!! You will make so many people happy, congrats!!

      Reply
  22. Rudolph.A.Furtado
    August 5, 2015 at 1:07 am (5 years ago)

    All cat owners have known this “OPEN SECRET” since ages much before medical science proved it a fact.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 5, 2015 at 6:06 am (5 years ago)

      You are so right, Rudolph!

      Reply
    • Mary Kennedy
      August 5, 2015 at 9:36 am (5 years ago)

      Rudolph, you are so right!! We know how helpful our cats can be! Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply

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