Interested in seeing if your cat could be a therapy pet? Pet Partners (formerly Delta Society) researches the effect of therapy animals and trains volunteer pets and people to help those in need. Paula Scott-Ginn of Pet Partners offered this advice for getting a pet registered to comfort and calm those in need.
What qualities should therapy animals possess?
First and foremost, a therapy animal must be calm, predictable, comfortable in strange environments and enjoy being handled by strangers, at times awkwardly. For cats the evaluation only requires (obedience-wise) that they remain comfortable on a stranger’s lap for 30 seconds. As you know, the characteristics listed above are not “typical” of cats, but there are many special ones that would qualify.
Just as important are the characteristics of the handler. Pet Partners evaluates not only the animal, but the team. Find characteristics needed in therapy cat handlers.
How do they help people with anxiety or nervousness?
The therapeutic effects of pets has been researched and proven through countless studies over the years. Interacting with a friendly animal has been shown to decrease blood pressure and alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression. The exact physiology of this is not known, but petting a cat:
• Causes a person to focus
• The tactile stimulation is calming
• If the cat is purring contentedly, the person will usually mirror that emotion
• If the cat demonstrates an endearing behavior, it can lighten someone’s mood
What particular cases/situations can a therapy cat help a person more than a therapy dog?
• Cats can be more suitable than dogs in extremely quiet environments such as nursing home or hospice settings
• There are also cases where someone might be allergic to dogs, but not to cats
• People who own or have owned cats instead of dogs might find a better connection to felines in a therapy setting
Do certain cat breeds make better therapy cats?
Over the years Pet Partners has registered almost every breed of cat, but we most commonly see mixed breeds (currently 70%). Of the recognized breeds (not mixed), the greatest percentage are Ragdolls and Abyssinians.
How many cats are currently registered as therapy animals with your group?
185. This is a low percentage of the total number of registered Pet Partners therapy animals (11,000). A lower percentage is to be expected since cats are not typically as outgoing and comfortable in strange environments like dogs are, but we hope, as we raise awareness about our program, that guardians of the exceptional cats out there will consider registering with Pet Partners for this very rewarding volunteer opportunity!