5 years ago, our adult daughter came to live with us following the break-up of an abusive marriage. At that time, Elisa was an emotional wreck. We immediately found her a therapist, and she was diagnosed with PTSD and depression. It took several years for her to regain her mental and emotional health and lose the fear that her ex would find her.
From the day Elisa arrived our cat, Lucy, “adopted” our daughter. She slept with her, followed her everywhere. We often caught Lucy “talking” to her. Because Lucy had chosen my husband as her person many years earlier, we were surprised to see this immediate switch to someone new in her life.
Over the next few years, we watched as Lucy instinctively knew when our daughter needed her. I learned that when Elisa suffered nightmares, I didn’t need to go to her and comfort her. Lucy took care of that. The two of them would cuddle together and Lucy would chirp and make other cute little sounds to calm her.
We lost Elisa in a tragic accident a couple months ago when she choked on meat in a local restaurant. Efforts by us and by a younger nurse and her husband to save her didn’t help. Paramedics were too late. My husband and I, both in a state of shock, returned home to a pacing, distraught kitty. Lucy seemed to know instinctively, that something was wrong.
Along with dealing with our own grief, we faced the prospect of helping Lucy to recover from her loss. Lucy, our therapy cat, had lost her patient.
How Does a Therapy Cat Help People?
One definition of a therapy cat is one that has been trained to help humans in a medically beneficial manner to improve the human’s well-being.
A therapy cat may provide affection, comfort and companionship to patients, in nursing homes, retirement homes, schools, hospices and more. They may even be considered as part of a medical treatment plan for a patient, such as relieving loneliness and sometimes help with depression and anxiety.
Some Therapy Cats May Help with Alzheimers’ Patients & Other Conditions
Therapy cats have improved the lives of Alzheimer’s patients in thousands of cases by relieving stress, stimulating concentration, and calming anxiety. Certified therapy cats undergo training to help them work with autistic children to encourage them in dealing with the scary world around them.
Cats May Significantly Help Children with Anxiety & Depression
According to the Academy of Anxiety and Depression of America, anxiety disorders affect one in eight children, and cats can play an important role in helping them deal with social situations and give them a feeling of confidence as they care for their pets.
Characteristics of a Good Therapy Cat
Temperament leads the list of characteristics for a therapy cat. Said cat must be gentle, calm, and laid-back in nature and must generally like people. A good therapy cat must be at ease around the noises of medical equipment. These cats can bring improvement to the lives of patients as long as they are able to relax with whatever illness or condition the human deals with.
A good therapy cat trusts and likes humans. She will be content with sitting in anyone’s lap, is curious with newcomers, and generally accepts whatever goes on with ease.
Some cats are trained for their jobs as therapy cats but clearly, in our case, that wasn’t necessary. It seems that some animals are born with the instinct to help their people or at least to emotionally connect with people.
Lucy Displayed Her Human Connection Early
The day in 2005 when I visited a local shelter to choose a kitten, I was shown into a room lined with small cages full of feline babies looking for a home. I initially thought I wanted a black and white tuxedo kitten. However, a tiny, cream baby with light blue eyes climbed the rails of her cage and screamed at me as I walked past her. She clung to the sides of the cage, desperately trying to grab my attention, and I couldn’t ignore her.
I removed that kitten from her cage and sat in a chair and got acquainted with her. She kept batting my face and chirping to me as only cats can do. She was the only kitten in that room who appeared desperate to get out of the cage and into a human’s arms and of course, she went home with me. While I may not have recognized it at the time, Lucy possessed that innate knowledge of humans that only some animals have.
Even Therapy Cats Grieve
Lucy sat by the front door for days, waiting for our daughter to return. Gradually, she accepted that it wasn’t happening and turned her attention to me. Once again, she sensed that she was needed. We have good days and some where our loss seems unbearable. But Lucy remains by my side, chirping and “talking” me through the pain of loss.