This post first appeared on Care2.com
Truman the therapy cat is loved and sought after for what comes naturally—making people feel good.
His many friends at Jewish Senior Services nursing home in Bridgeport, CT, eagerly await his visits and share how much he means to them on Truman’s Facebook page. One doctor even wrote a prescription to have Truman visit a senior patient who was suffering from depression. The gorgeous white loving ball of fluff also helps comfort children at the Cove Center for Grieving Children in Easton, CT. While people are used to hearing about therapy dogs, they are often surprised to hear that cats work as service animals, too. With National Cat Day (Oct. 29) just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to highlight the wonderful work being done by therapy cats.
Truman is just one of 211 cats registered with the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program. Therapy cats registered through this national nonprofit provide people of all ages and health conditions with unconditional love and comfort. The cats work in a variety of settings including hospitals, assisted living facilities and facilities that serve veterans. Service cats also visit schools and libraries as part of reading programs. Reading to service animals helps students build their confidence and reading skills. Some therapy cats have participated in employee wellness fairs.
Children are especially excited when Truman arrives in his carriage.
From Street Cat to Service Cat
Truman was emaciated when rescued from the streets by a good Samaritan and taken to an animal shelter where he was adopted by Mary Moses Kinney. It was a veterinarian who suggested that because of his super calm temperament and easygoing personality, Truman would make a wonderful therapy cat.
“We have seven cats and Truman is the only one with the extraordinary temperament to do what he does,” Moses Kinney said. “His behavior is one hundred percent predictable. He doesn’t hiss, scratch or bite.”
Truman, she said, is friendly, patient, confident, gentle and at ease in all situations. He enjoys human contact and is content to be petted and handled. Children, in particular, enjoy hugging Truman while adults are usually happy to simply pet him. When on the job Truman has an innate sense of going to those who need him the most.
“He will climb right up on their bed to snuggle with them,” Moses Kinney said. “For many of the people on Truman’s visit request list, he is the highlight of their week.”
Last year when Truman was sick and had to take a break from therapy work, he received get-well cards from his many friends at Jewish Senior Services who missed his visits.
Animals registered through the Pet Partner program need to be at least 1 year old. According to the organization, this age requirement helps protect a cat’s health as very young animals are more vulnerable to infection and aren’t necessarily up to the amount of touching and interaction a cat will receive on therapy visits. In addition, older cats have had time to develop their temperaments, learn the skills required to do therapy work, and establish a bond with their handlers.
“The handler is just as important as the animal in a therapy team,” said Elisabeth Van Every, marketing and strategic partnerships coordinator at Pet Partners. “The handler is there to make sure both the animal and the clients remain safe. Building a strong bond with the cat is the best way for handlers to read their cat’s body language and stress signals.”
Does Your Cat Have What it takes to do Therapy Work?
Does Your Cat Have What it takes to do Therapy Work?
Following are the temperament requirements for cats registered through the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program:
- Therapy cats need to have a calm friendly temperament. They should welcome interactions with strangers and must enjoy being petted and touched by people they don’t know.
- Therapy cats must be comfortable sitting and lying quietly beside strangers.
- Since service work requires visiting different locations, therapy cats need to be comfortable traveling.
- Service cats need to be at ease around unfamiliar settings and medical equipment.
- Pet Partner therapy cats are required to wear leashes during visits for the safety of the cats and the people they are visiting. So, cats seeking registration in this program need to be trained to walk on a leash wearing either a collar or a harness.
Before being registered with Pet Partners cats need to complete a health screening, which is confirmed by a veterinarian. Health requirements include an up-to-date rabies vaccination, proof that the cat is free of internal and external parasites and doesn’t currently have any easily-transmissible illnesses or conditions. In addition, the cat shouldn’t be taking any immunosuppressant medications and be in overall general good health.
Pet Partners requires that cats in its program are not fed raw meat diets or treats. This requirement is part of the organization’s infection control protocols since animals eating raw meat present a higher risk of transmitting zoonotic infections to humans.
Pet Partners offers more information about the registration process, including an overview of requirements and fees on its website.