Vinny The Therapy Cat
Hi! My name is Vinny The Therapy Cat! I am a 4 year old chocolate European Burmese. I am a registered Therapy Cat with Love on a Leash, and I regularly visit a local nursing home. I moved into my forever home when I was 5 months old. Mom noticed right away I have an unusually calm and laid back personality, and soon started thinking I’d make a good therapy cat.
The two biggest organizations that register therapy pets are Love on a Leash (LOAL) and Pet Partners (PP). Mom researched both organizations, and decided to pursue getting me registered as a therapy cat with LOAL. Therapy pets must have calm, laid back and steady personalities. They must be able to travel calmly in a car without getting car sick. They must be open to new places and experiences, and accept strange smells, sounds, and sights. They must accept petting that may be awkward or hard. Most of all, they must love people, and enjoy petting and attention from people other than the owner. Reactive pets (who react before thinking) will not make good therapy pets. In order to become registered, I had to be at least one year of age, healthy, and up to date on vaccines, and accept wearing a harness and leash.
Since I had to be at least one year old before I could start a therapy cat career, Mom took me out as much as she could to socialize me and get me used to going places. She took me to PetCo and PetSmart. She also took me to the vet just to be weighed and say hi. She also entered me in several CFA and ACFA cat shows. Cat shows can be great experience for a future therapy cat (and there is also a class for Household Pets). I did very well at the cat shows, and am titled in both CFA and ACFA. I prefer pet therapy work though, and Mom has let me “retire” from the cat shows.
Once I was a year old, I was able to pursue a therapy cat career. First, my vet had to sign a form stating that I was healthy, up to date on vaccinations, and in agreement that I probably had the right personality for pet therapy work. Then Mom called a local nursing home, and arranged for me to start visiting. I had to log ten 1 hour supervised training visits. Since there is no LOAL chapter in my area, LOAL approved an activities employee at the nursing home to supervise us. After we completed our ten 1 hour training visits, the activities employee supervising us had to sign a form stating our visits went well. Then Mom was able to submit my application to LOAL, and I became a registered therapy cat with LOAL in December, 2012. Pets that are registered with LOAL are awarded the degree “Therapy Pet (ThD)”.
It has been very rewarding visiting the nursing home. Mom was told I’m always the talk of the afternoon when I visit, and I have quite a fan club! One woman had a lot of pain issues, and seldom participated in activities. She has since passed away, but loved seeing me. She would light up when I visited and sat on her lap. I’m glad I was able to bring her some joy at the end of her life. Another woman initially said she was not interested in seeing me, so we moved on. Suddenly she changed her mind and wheeled herself over to see me, petted me, and fed me a spoon of turkey baby food. The activities employee excitedly told me later “That is the FIRST time she’s shown any interest or participated in ANYTHING since she’s been here!” I also visited a woman who’d had a stroke. The activities employee told me that was the most she’d ever seen her try to use her stroke affected arm in her attempts to pet me. She still needed a little help petting me, but some great examples of how helpful Pet Therapy can be. Now, we have to have a rotating list of residents to visit at the nursing home because I can no longer see everyone who’d like to see me each time I visit.
A number of different advanced degrees are available through LOAL, depending upon your individual interests or specialty. Advanced degrees require teamwork; this is a joint effort between therapy pet and handler. In order to qualify for an advanced degree, we had to log a minimum of 50 hours volunteering in the specialty area, Mom had to write a short essay, and fill out the application. I qualified for an advanced degree in Elderly: Social Visits in Dec. 2015 (I would have qualified sooner, but my human initially didn’t log our visits after I was registered). I now have the titles ThD (e:sv).
I also act as a Therapy Cat for my Tonkinese big brother, Rider. Rider was diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) almost a year ago, and has required frequent visits to Internal Medicine. Rider gets nervous at the vet, so I go with him to his appointments. He seems to like having me there for “moral support”.
If you think your cat has what it takes to be a therapy cat, please consider pursuing getting him or her registered. Therapy cats are in high demand, but there is a shortage of registered therapy cats. Many people would like a visit from a cat. Unfortunately, there are few registered Therapy Cats out there. Per an email response from LOAL, “As of today (11/17/2015), we have the following Active pets in our database: Dogs – 2187, Cats – 54 (including Vinny), Rabbits – 9 Miniature Horse – 1.”
Therapy Cats can volunteer in several areas: Hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and Alzheimer’s facilities. Therapy Cats can also visit schools, special education classrooms, day care centers, libraries, and colleges. A Therapy Cat may serve as a teaching tool, or work in “Reading to Rover” program where children struggling with reading can read to a non-judgmental Therapy Cat. Some Therapy Cats also visit colleges and universities during finals weeks to provide some stress relief. A Therapy Cat’s main job is to brighten someone’s day, provide emotional support, put a smile on someone’s face, or bring back a cherished memory. If you have a cat that may have potential as a Therapy Cat, please consider pursuing getting him or her registered.
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