Most of us are familiar with dogs as therapy animals in hospitals and nursing homes, but therapy cats can be of great help too. Pet Partners, a national group that helps train non-canine therapy animals, reports that cats are the second most popular species behind dogs as therapy animals.
Therapy cats work especially well with senior citizens in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, Alzheimer units and hospices. Sometimes these patients are afraid of dogs and cats are a great option for them. For Alzheimer patients, cats often help stimulate memories because they had a cat when they were younger. Engaging the patient by asking questions about their cat can keep them talking, and they’re often more social for several days after a therapy cat session.
For those in hospice care, cats provide comfort by sitting on the bed and also have a calming effect on the patient’s family.
In order to be considered for therapy cat training, a cat must have these traits:
- A good disposition
- Used to being picked up and handled
- Not be startled by abrupt noises
- Tolerant of different tones of voice
- Tolerant of awkward touch
- Must be tolerant of wearing halter and leash
If you feel your cat would be a good therapy cat candidate, visit the Pet Partners website (petpartners.org) for information on evaluation and training. Locate the nearest affiliate branch and contact them to see if training sessions are available. The sessions are normally held 3-4 times per year, they are usually 8 hours long and cost around $150. A private evaluation is done with you and your cat after the session to determine if you would be a good therapy team. If your cat doesn’t pass the evaluation, you can try again at a later date.
Once you get registered, your group will begin scheduling you for visits. Liability insurance is included with registration. If you move to another area after becoming registered, you can begin work with another Pet Partners chapter.
Pet therapy work can be very rewarding for the therapy team, and a great help to those you visit.