You may have met a therapy dog in your travels, but have you ever heard of a therapy cat? Just like dogs, cats can be trained as therapy pets. Cat therapy can assist mentally, physically, or emotionally challenged humans who may do well with animal interaction. Therapy cats may spend time with children or adults in the hospital, or they may visit schools or nursing homes. Therapy cats are small, soft and snuggly.
What Makes a Good Therapy Cat?
Love on a Leash (LOAL), which provides certification procedures for pet parents looking to get their animals into pet therapy, provides guidelines for what makes a good therapy cat. Besides needing to be calm and love human interaction, they should also be able to:
- Ride unstressed in a car before visits
- Be house-trained well enough to not have an accident
- Wear a harness and leash
- Be at ease around other animals
Meet Draven the Therapy Cat
Draven was born on May 10, 2012 and adopted from the Rainbow Animal Refuge in Pennsylvania. His new family was made up of his human parents and two kitty sisters. While Draven got along well with his furry siblings, his parents noticed he had a special appreciation for humans. "We began to notice he had a quality our other two cats did not; he enjoyed the company and attention of humans — any humans — a lot! He wasn't afraid or leery of strangers in our home, he tolerated car rides and he even purred while at the vet's office! He was just a very calm, laid-back kitten," says his human mom, Jessica Hagan.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Hagan began researching to see if she could get Draven certified as a therapy cat and found Love on a Leash (LOAL). While Draven met all the certification requirements, he was still too young to officially go through the process, so Hagan decided to get him some real-life training to test whether he'd be good at cat therapy. "We'd also take him to visit friends and relatives as well as other places animals were allowed, such as pet stores and parks, to get him used to traveling in the car, wearing a harness and being in strange places around new people. None of these experiences seemed to faze him, so when he turned a year old, we began the official application process," says Hagan.
"We went to the assisted living facility every week and visited residents individually in their rooms. We also went to the local library a couple times to visit preschoolers during Story Time. After all his paperwork was done and his practice hours were logged, we submitted everything to LOAL and he received his certification on October 19, 2013."
Draven's mom is especially proud of him. "He loves seeing the same people every week at the assisted living center. He gets to hang out in the Activity Room and spend time with them one-on-one in their own rooms. When he visits patients at the hospital, he rides in a pet stroller so he's at a good level for bed-ridden folks to see and pet him. He even hops out of the stroller sometimes to lie in bed with people he particularly likes! The last Story Time he went to at the library, he took the kids little black 'Scaredy Cats' to help them celebrate Halloween. He also dressed up as a hot dog. Er, hot-cat-dog?"
Draven has a jam-packed schedule as he's constantly doing new activities, such as visiting his local Junior Girl Scouts and Daisy Scouts. He even recently volunteered to raise money for the Mercer County Animal Response Team that provides Pet Emergency Kits to two area fire departments. Keep up with this busy cat on his Facebook page.
It's just proof that any pet with an affection for humans can be a great therapy companion. All it takes is a little training and lots of love. As much as Draven loves to meet new people, it's the people that truly appreciate the chance to spend time with Draven.
Erin Ollila is a pet enthusiast who believes in the power of words and how a message can inform, and even transform its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.