Extensive scientific research confirming the health benefits of handling cats has sparked interest in therapeutic cats across the country. They provide a healing “fur fixation” for those suffering from physical and mental health problems, recovering from surgery, or suffering from anxiety and even loneliness. Put simply, it is a therapy cat’s job to bring joy and happiness. Many hospitals are now including pet therapy as part of their “treatment plan” as more and more children’s camps and senior residences invite them to entertain with therapeutic love and purrs.
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According to Elisabeth Van Every, communications and contact specialist at Pet Partners, the nation’s largest pet therapy registration organization, “dogs are still the most popular therapy animals because they have the innate traits a good therapy animal needs.”
Although the number of cats with these traits is lower, “we’ve definitely seen cats have these skills, and our therapy cat dealers are proud of their cat partners.”
Meet Casey, the pet therapy cat
Nationwide, more people have met the Casey therapy cat than any other working therapy cat. In addition to adding many in-person therapy visits to his schedule, he is helping his mother cat Arden Moore showcase her veterinarian approved first aid / CPR courses for pets across the country. He is also the “star” of Arden’s latest book, A Kid’s Guide to Cats (Storey Publishing, 2020), which gives kids advice and tips from a cat’s perspective.
Arden adopted the lovely tabby from the San Diego Humane Society when he was a 4 month old kitten.
“I was looking for a smart, curious, and confident cat who would be my pet safety cat for my Pet First Aid 4U program,” says Arden. “From the moment we met, he accepted being held and playing with a wand toy. I fell in love with him immediately, of course, and we’ve been together for six years. “
A guide to a great therapy cat
Human-loving cats are great therapy cats. Arden says there’s no question that Casey loves people.
“Because he’s so social, he likes to meet all kinds of people and go to all kinds of places,” she says. “But I think his therapy visits with his older ‘Brookdale Buddies’ are his favorites. When we head off for a therapy visit, he’s in his luggage rack in the back seat and I’ll say, “Hey Casey, are you ready to visit our Brookdale friends?” And he will immediately speak in a chirping tone. He had many children at the Texas Critter Camp SPCA and residents of the Brookdale Memory Care Center in Dallas lead him on a leash or let his stroller be pushed through the aisles. He always accepts treats gently – never nibble or scratch. “
In order to prepare Casey for success, Arden socialized him from the start.
“I purposely touched and squeezed his paw pads, treated him from ears to tail and even blew ‘blisters’ on his stomach,” she says. “He never reacted angry, or pulled out his claws, or tried to choke me. He even sits quietly in my lap when it’s time for his ‘mani-pedi’ nail cutting sessions. “
She introduced Casey to all kinds of people and pets from childhood, and he hissed, attacked, or tried to escape or hide.
“I often say that Casey has never met a stranger or has been to a strange place,” says Arden. “He adapts quickly to people and situations – a good quality to have to be a therapy cat.”
Arden also spent extra hours with Casey to make sure he got on cue, walks on a leash, rides happily in a stroller, sits down, greets with a high five, and slowly turns.
“At first I used clickers and target sticks during training sessions and was able to gradually fade them out and use my voice and hand signals,” she says. She believes it’s the little tricks that make a really lovable therapy cat, as they help people relax and be in her presence. A great therapy cat also likes to learn – and it helps if the cat is motivated to eat.
Arden chooses it again to make sure Casey always makes a grand entrance, wears a black cowboy hat, and proudly rides in his stroller. There is a funny tone to the visit.
Pet Therapy Register
All therapy cats must be registered with an organization like Love on a Leash (where Casey is registered) or Pet Partners. Aside from the relevant records that cover everything about the pet’s health and behavior, all pets must undergo a series of supervised visits to ensure that they are “right for the job”. In addition, a therapy cat must always be up to date with all necessary health vaccines and flea / tick repellants and receive regular wellness checkups.
“Casey had to make 10 supervised visits,” says Arden. “We selected the Brookdale Memory Care Center in Dallas. A manager from Brookdale had to check that Casey was polite every time he visited. It met these requirements quickly and purred like a Mack truck the whole time!
“He’s never afraid to be petted. He never hides in his stroller. And he likes to be on a leash and stop to greet people. I am blessed to have such a great cat that makes so many people smile! “
Personality traits and cat requirements
Both Love on A Leash (loveonaleash.org) and Pet Partners (petpartners.org) have excellent information about therapy cats and how to register and work with them. They have offices across the country.
Apart from a calm demeanor and the joy of petting, Love on a Leash describes the following requirements for prospective therapy cats:
✤ Must be open to new experiences, changes in routine and visits to different places
✤ Must be comfortable in the car and must not suffer from motion sickness
✤ Must be at least 1 year old
Pet Partners highlights working with an organization that has a pet therapy partner program that includes the following benefits:
✤ Comprehensive insurance cover for the dog handler and the pet during voluntary visits
✤ Access to tools to help you find places and places to visit
✤ Access to relevant online courses for free or at discounted prices
✤ An ID with a picture of you and your pet to wear during your visit
If you think your cat has what it takes to give love and affection to complete strangers, there are some of Arden’s pointers to follow and register your cat as an official therapy cat. It’s a great way to give back to your community.
Featured photo: Arden Moore
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