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Therapy Cats--how possible?

1978 Views 6 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  Nora B
Hello! I recently "adopted" a cat with three kittens. She was a stray found at a local school by a friend, pregnant (I'm thinking dumped, since it was by a school, and she is very sweet and well-adjusted to inside life).
For a long time, I've desired to work in animal-assisted therapy, but I simply never had an animal that would be appropriate (hyper-active dogs, etc.). But after having this kitty for about a month, I'm wondering.

She's never hidden/behaved fearfully, never bitten aggressively--She did chow on my foot under a blanket once, but never again after I told her no--she's fine when people come over, lets them hold her, pet her, etc. Just in general Feather is an incredibly calm, incredibly sweet cat.

Anyone here do therapy with their cat/seen therapy cats in action? What is your opinion on the idea?
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I think therapy cats are great! I don't know very much about them, but I do know that in some nursing homes/retirement homes around where I live, they have people bring by some very well-trained cats for the elderly residence to love on for a bit. They're usually harness trained. I would just make sure that she can handle rougher pets, because sometimes people can get a bit heavy-handed.

They also use therapy cats during psychological sessions to help the patient relax (my partner is a psychologist and plans to do this once she has finished grad school and has her own clinic).
I don't have time to answer this completely now...but it is great. My youngest cat, Muffin, is a certified therapy cat. He loves it.

Two quick tips: harness/leash training is very important, look up your local therapy pet group for info specific to where you live :)

I'll come back later, when I'm not at work, and answer this a bit better.
I think it's a wonderful idea! I just read an article about a therapy cat who visited seniors residences and childrens hospitals and he sounded like it made a world of difference.

i think that is a great thing for you to want to do!
She's never hidden/behaved fearfully, never bitten aggressively--She did chow on my foot under a blanket once, but never again after I told her no--she's fine when people come over, lets them hold her, pet her, etc. Just in general Feather is an incredibly calm, incredibly sweet cat.
I don't know anything about therapy cats or whether it's possible with most cats. I have thought about the topic, because I am currently harness training my cat, so if she adapts to new environments well enough it could be a possibility for her. So I'm definitely interested in responses from people who might know about this topic.

With that said, please keep in mind that a cat being well-behaved, social, and not fearful at home does not necessarily mean it will behave the same way in a new environment. Most domestic cats, even those that are adaptable, don't feel completely at ease outside their home turf.

Take my cat, for example. She adapted to my house very quickly, and since then has not been easily scared. She has never been aggressive. She has never hissed, and has only play scratched/bitten us a couple of times in the very beginning but very quickly learned not to do it. She doesn't like to be picked up, but aside from that, she is very friendly. She is perfectly comfortable around any new person that comes over, she sticks around wherever there is people, allows them to pet her, and will even lick their noses if they come close enough to her. Her body language is totally relaxed when there are people around, she lays down with her belly exposed, closes her eyes, etc.

We are harness training her, and she is totally different outdoors. She gets alert and fearful and is very cautious. She will not relax and lay down. If she sees people, she freezes up, and if they make any loud sounds or walk towards her, she gets scared and starts running back towards the house. This makes the training sessions hard, because there's almost always someone out there and walking a cat on a leash draws attention, people want to come over and make conversation or pet her and she won't have any of it.

Now, we haven't even been doing this for a month yet, and we don't do it everyday because it depends on the whether, what's going on outside, etc. I think this is something that can be changed, and eventually she will be comfortable around new people outside the house, too. However, even then, if I took her, put her in the car, and drove her to yet another entirely new place, she would be uncomfortable about the new people there, yet again. So while perhaps this is possible with cats, I think it's extremely hard, and you won't be able to make that call just based on your cat's behavior inside its own home.
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So, after responding I started looking up resources on this. This article is very interesting and may be helpful to you. You might want to try harness training your cat and then following the other training steps detailed in it.

The Special Love of Therapy Cats : Feline Relationships : Your Cat's Mind

After reading it, I think my cat is not the best candidate for this, given the fact that she will only cuddle with us when *she* wants to, and doesn't like to be picked up. If that changes, or if I get a cat that is more cuddly, I will definitely consider this. Meanwhile, I am pretty sure I am going to obsessively look up information about it until I am satisfied with my knowledge...
Hi Delta society does the testing and trainign and cet courses, the rules are different based on animals - start here for more info:
Improving human health through Therapy, Service & Companion animals - Pet Partners

The truth is so much of the training and testing is about the handler (the people) the cat has to have the right temperment but the huge time commitment has to come from you
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