Category Archives: therapy cats

Working Cats, a.k.a. “the Verminators”

By Julia Williams

Much has been written about the various types of “working dogs” that provide a great service to mankind. I’ve done several articles on “dogs with jobs” myself, and CANIDAE sponsors dozens of exemplary working dogs in their Special Achievers program. But working cats? Other than certified therapy cats – like the delightful Guido the Italian Kitty – you don’t hear a lot about cats with jobs. Nevertheless, working cats do exist and are becoming increasingly more common. They may not undergo the same rigorous training as police dogs or search-and-rescue dogs, but these highly skilled “Verminators” provide an invaluable service.

Farmers have known for eons that cats are the best way to keep a rodent population under control. Cats are also being used at various historical sites, public gardens and museums to keep the grounds rodent free. An extra benefit of having working cats on the premises is that the visiting public enjoys them as well. When word gets out, cat lovers flock to tourist attractions that have kitties on patrol.

Here are just a few places that use working cats to keep the mice away.

The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas

Legend has it that there’s almost always been a cat living at the Alamo. A Mexican soldier’s diary told of a friendly feline roaming the grounds in 1836, the year of the famous battle. In 1981, guards rescued a stray kitten from a tree and she began joining them on their rounds. Upon her death the cat – christened Ruby LeGato – was buried on the grounds. Now the Alamo has another famous feline resident, a plucky black-and-white cat named C.C. who’s been patrolling the gardens for about 14 years.

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On The Job with Guido the Italian Kitty

My job has no formal Job Description – it’s just my job and I’m fortunate to just wing it at work. People are curious as a cat about what I do as an Animal Assisted Therapy Cat, so I’m gonna give you a real PURRsonal insight to my having fun on the job with the fantastic seniors at The ARC of San Francisco.

Commuting to my job on a San Francisco cable car is a good way to start my day, (of course I hum the Mice a Roni tune up and over the hills). Sometimes I visit little groups of 20 or a larger group of 55 seniors, all with mental or physical challenges. There’s so many meowvalous activities going on, and I purrticipate in them all!

When they sit in chairs at the activity tables, I purrfur to forego the chair to sit on their table, like the crafts table where I check out their balls of colorful yarns and great artwork they’re making. I might put my paw in the watercolor paints (I’ma an artisticat doing paw print paintings) or play hockey with their crayons.

Dominos at the game table are my favorito – just paw tap one and bamzatini they all go down! The clients giggle or say “Oh NO Guido!” Some days I join in card games – just putting my paw on the card they should select. So you see, my job can’t have a job description cuz I always changes what I do on the job.

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Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) & a Special Kitty

By Suzanne Alicie

If you’re a pet lover, you’ve more than likely heard of Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS). This fantastic organization provides for the needs of companion animals to low income people with HIV/AIDS, other disabling illnesses and senior citizens. Volunteers provide essential support, educate the community and advocate for disabled individuals to have the right to keep service animals. PAWS is not just support for the health and well being of animals though; the organization also contributes to improving the quality of life for disabled individuals and their furry companions.

Thanks to the wonderful mom of Guido the Italian Kitty, we were able to get the inside scoop on some exciting news from the PAWS camp. Guido is a certified “Animal Assisted Therapy Meowster,” and PAWS is one of his very favorite organizations. Before I share their big news, I want to tell you a bit about the PAWS program and the work they do. I was lucky enough to be able to discuss PAWS with the President of the San Francisco organization, John Lipp, who filled me in on the details of PAWS and its presence across the country.

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Henry the “Spirit Healer” Cat Helps People AND Pets

By Julia Williams

Last December I introduced you to a wonderful three-legged feline named Henry. This extraordinary kitty is a different kind of “Therapy Cat” than those who visit nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities, but his healing work is just as important, and has profoundly changed the lives of many.

I’m writing about Henry again today because his messages of hope, tolerance, resilience and love are too important to forget. Henry shares his story so that others can learn new things and overcome their traumas and tragedies; I want to share Henry’s story to help his healing work gain momentum and reach an even larger audience than it already has. (There’s one more exciting reason for this post, but you’ll have to read to the end to find out what it is!!).

Henry reaches out to help people of all ages through his website, Henrysworld.org, through personal correspondence and through his critically acclaimed books. “Henry’s World: a Three-Legged Cat’s View of Human Absurdity” is a heartwarming compilation of short tales by Henry about his life, along with hundreds of emails Henry has received and responded to. “What’s the Matter with Henry? The True Tale of a Three-Legged Cat,” was written for children but inspires young and old alike. A third book “What About Me? I’m Here Too!” addresses the emotional issues experienced by healthy siblings of chronically ill children.

Cathy Conheim, Henry’s Mom and self-described Cat Scribe, says “People speak to animals differently and more openly. Animals are our safe havens, an unending source of unconditional love and acceptance. Whether the animals are real, stuffed, or virtual, they become trusted confidants and helpers.” It’s largely for this reason that Henry has touched so many lives. Over the past six years, Henry has received over 50,000 letters from children – and from adults and critters too!

Henry was named the 2010 ASPCA Cat of the Year and more recently, created the “Ouch! Emotional Bandage” app for the iPhone and iPad. This app lets you personalize a blank bandage with a photo and message, or select one of the pre-made bandages. Then you simply e-mail it to people who care about you, as a way to let them know you are hurting and need some TLC. (Brilliant idea, Henry!).

Henry’s words of wisdom include: You aren’t defined by what happens to you; we don’t get to choose what happens to us in life, but we do get to choose how we respond; play the paw you are dealt and be the best “You” that you can be; remember to connect with those you care about. And the one that might be the most important lesson of all: just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you can’t do something.

The healing messages are for people, but all profits from the sales of Henry’s books and other fun stuff on his site goes to help animals, as well as human children. Says Henry, “I try very hard to teach humans better ways to be and raise lots of dollars for animals. Any group anywhere in the world can buy my books at our printing cost for $8, sell them for $20 and keep the money locally for the animals in their area.” Henry’s books are not sold in a bookstore, because then there would be no profit for the animals or the children.

Says Cathy, “If we could inspire enough people to buy just ONE charming book about a rescued cat, this would create a lot of money for the animals! I think it would be a great story of the power of the internet, the power of healing…of animals helping animals. Henry and I don’t care how the money made is used as long as animals or kids benefit. Let’s say someone had a $1000 vet bill; if they sold 83 books they could pay the bill. People sell Girl Scout cookies by the zillion, fat and sugar, the drug of choice for kids. Why not sell something pawsitive and do good things with the money?”

Here are three simple ways you can help spread the word about Henry and his healing messages: 1) buy a book or two for someone you love; 2) tell others to check out Henry’s books and other cool stuff at Henrysworld.org; 3) if you know of a group who might want to buy Henry’s books as a fund-raising tool, please encourage them to get in touch with Henry.

Now for the exciting news – we’re giving away some of Henry’s books and other neat things to three lucky readers!! To participate, simply leave a comment stating that you want to be entered in the giveaway, and include either your email address or a link to your “contact me” info. Sorry, only residents of the U.S. and Canada are eligible to win, and entries must be received by May 6, 2011.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

What Qualities Does a Therapy Cat Need?


By Julia Williams

We recently introduced you to therapy dogs Stitch, Riley and Sophie, sponsored by CANIDAE. Inspired by their heartwarming story, I began to wonder if there was such a thing as therapy cats. I didn’t really think so, given that my feline friends have all been “scaredy-cats” who run and hide from the vacuum cleaner (aka, the “suck monster”), the Fedex guy, and pretty much all visitors except a chosen few. It turns out there are lots of calmer, more courageous kitties who aren’t afraid of strangers or noisy places, and these are the ones who make good therapy cats.

I’ve recently become acquainted with a delightful therapy cat named Tabitha, or Tabby for short. Tabby’s human mom, Karen, graciously gave me some information on the qualities a therapy cat needs and how to get started. I thought I’d pass them on, in case you have an outgoing feline and you’re interested in training them to be a therapy cat volunteer. I’d really like to do this myself, but I know my three kitties (bless their hearts), would make terrible therapy cats.

First though, let me tell you a little about Tabby. She just turned five and has been doing animal-assisted therapy for about a year. She’s a tabby cat of course, and lives in Vancouver, WA with Karen, her husband Scott and four other felines. Tabby loves human attention and being petted which, along with her calm demeanor and sociable nature, make her well suited to therapy cat work. Tabby likes attention so much that at home, she demands it from her humans all the time (that sounds like my cat Belle!). During her therapy cat training, Tabby even invented her own way of asking for petting – by sitting down and tapping people with one paw.

Karen trained Tabby using the evaluation criteria of The Delta Society, regarded as the top training/certification program for Animal Assisted Therapy. Tabby isn’t certified yet, but she will be very soon. In the meantime, the plucky feline is getting lots of paws-on experience as a therapy cat. How did that come about? Karen spoke with the director of an assisted living facility about Tabby and her training, and they agreed to meet her. Tabby naturally charmed everyone during her first visit – and the rest, as they say, is history!

Karen takes Tabby to the facility so she can visit with people who have severely limited mobility, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other ailments that make it hard for them to interact with people. Tabby also goes to a nursing home and an extended care facility at the request of a resident’s family. No matter who she visits, Tabby always brings them a great deal of comfort and joy.

Before she began her therapy cat training, Tabby learned to wear a harness and leash, and ride in a cat stroller. During visits, the cat needs to be controlled somehow, and a leash is the best way. Karen said it’s not essential that the cat learn to walk on the leash, but people do enjoy seeing it. In any event, a harness and leash will keep the cat safe should they be startled by something and try to run away. If you’d like to leash-train your cat, this article gives step-by-step instructions.

To get Tabby used to strange settings and new experiences, Karen takes her to dog parks, offices, and stores that allow pets inside. Therapy cats should be even-tempered, outgoing and not afraid to meet new people. They shouldn’t growl or hiss at people, cats, dogs or other animals. Said Karen, “You can train them for the specifics, but if they aren’t calm then no amount of training will be enough.” Most Home Depot stores allow pets inside, she said, and they’re a perfect place to acclimate the cat to loud sounds, beeping equipment, carts (akin to wheelchairs in a facility setting), and being petted by strangers.

Not all therapy cats work with the elderly; some work with children in schools or pediatric therapy settings, and some work one-on-one with occupational therapy professionals. It’s important to choose a setting where you and your cat are comfortable, and pay attention to what your cat is telling you. Every cat has its own time limits, noise threshold and comfort level in strange situations. Watch your cat’s body language for signs of anxiety or fear, and end the training or visit when your cat tells you it’s time. You can always train more another day, but pushing your cat beyond their tolerance level will result in them not wanting to continue.

You can read more about Tabby’s therapy visits on her blog, Furry Tales of the PDX Pride. Tabby writes about her exploits so descriptively that it feels like you’re right there with her, visiting the patients and experiencing everything she does. Being a therapy cat is hard work, but it’s also very rewarding. I tip my hat to Tabby, a therapy cat extraordinaire! I can tell she loves her “job,” and she brings joy to so many people who really need it.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.