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Readers Respond: Do you have personal experience with a cat as therapy?

Responses: 90

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Cats are slowly moving into their own as therapy animals, and are being used more and more in convalescent homes and other institutions for that purpose. The associated article tells the story of a miracle a cat brought to an autistic child. Readers may contribute here with personal stories about their own experience with cats as therapy for autism or other medical conditions. NOTE: Questions or responses to others will not be published. Think of this as your own mini-article. Share Your Experience

Prissy & Chili Seizure Notification

It all started with my Priscilla. While undergoing chemo, all I wanted to do was sleep, Prissy would paw and paw AND paw at my chest until I would get up. She was like a mother bear smacking her cub for being naughty. She kept me alive. Then, I didn't realize I was having temporal lobe seizures until my Pris started staring then pawing at me approximately. 30 minutes prior to the seizure hitting. After weeks of this bizarre behavior, I finally went to my doctor and was diagnosed with a seizure disorder. I now have her granddaughter, when my brain waves change, she starts butting my forehead and does not stop until I lie down. She sleeps next to my left temporal lobe and when I am up and around she follows me everywhere. My dear Prissy has gone on now, but Chili Bean continues to work. They have been a blessing. As a former ADA specialist, I know first hand, the uphill battle to have cats recognized as valid service animals. Cats are super intuitive to their human's conditions.
—Guest Izzy

Excellent article

I suffered with panic and anxiety attacks as well as depression near the end of 2006. I was in therapy for months and took medication. I decided to adopt a kitten one day to have another little life around so I wouldn't feel so alone. Vlad came into my life about a week before my 40th birthday in 2007. I immediately felt I had a purpose, taking care of my kitten. About a month later I adopted a companion for him and added another wonderful little life. Having them proved a wonderful distraction to my problems. So much so I feel I can handle my life a little better and no longer have anxiety attacks. Coming home to my family of 5 cats now is the highlight of my day. I come home and I can talk to them and tell them my troubles and they patiently listen. Cats are wonderful therapists and most of all, great friends. I wish more people would give them a chance. That myth of being solitary creatures is just that, a myth.
—Guest Nuria

Feline Deprivation Syndrome (FDS) Relief

Tippy a young maile white medium longhaired cat, appeared out of the blue last week as I was complaining about my FDS, caused by the absence of cats from my life. No sooner had I said this to my superbly prescient friend, Diana, a fellow, Ailourophile, a handsome male white cat with head and ear marking remarkably similar to those of my dog Tippy appeared. He climbed into my lap, making himself immediately at home. Tippy was a Christmas gift 74 years ago, when I was five. 'mmmmmmm', Tippy just added with a walk across this keyboard.
—Guest Robert

cats in therapy

Thank you for the article - it reminded me of when I was in therapy myself. There were things that I found very difficult to discuss with my therapist. One day her cat joined us, and she wanted to put him out. I begged to have him stay. With my attention divided between the cat asleep on my lap and my therapist's questions, we managed to cover new ground. Soon both her cats would join us when it was time for my sessions. There is no doubt in my mind of their beneficial presence during difficult sessions. My therapist might feel differently, seeing that I often used the 'distraction' to avoid answering questions I had not yet felt ready to answer. Years later I picked up a stray cat, and not ever having had a cat before, the 'therapy cats', as I call them, greatly eased the way for this stray into my life. From a very uncertain start, he has grown into a big tom, currently asleep on my lap.
—Guest pardoes

Help Comes in All Forms

I have had many hard years of psychiatric issues, starting when I was very young. I adopted Annabelle four years ago, at the darkest part of my then diagnosis of chronic depression. She would sit in my lap when I was feeling particularly down and I would kiss her on top of her head; however, it always seemed like she was also sad. So, I adopted another cat named Ducky to keep her company. Time passed, and a diagnosis of depression turned into a diagnosis of schizophrenia. My cats have come to recognize when I am having auditory hallucinations (which can be unnerving) and try to comfort me. Ducky will sit in my lap and purr (and drool of course), while Annabelle will groom my eyebrows and forehead. It always makes me feel better, and allows me to feel like I am not alone. I believe that love shines brightest in the face of hardship, and they have been like little suns to me.
—Guest Amie

Cats working as therapy pets

I have had two therapy cats, one who is now retired and a second who is still working. I also have a therapy dog. Both cats and the dog have visited extensively. I disagree with the person who said a cat needs to be declawed, a cat can scratch as easily as a dog can. The handler needs to learn how to not put the pet in a situation where it would scratch, and the pet (dog or cat or other!) must be very trustworthy. My cat and dog currently visit nursing homes and rehab centers, where they will lay on the bed with the patients and even nap. My cat is now a 'reading assistance' pet, where children read to him to help them gain confidence. He also visits with children at a temporary facility while they are waiting for hospital care. Cats can easily be as good at this sort of work as dogs, but need to be calm, able to tolerate all different situations, and very trustworthy. I am always so glad when I see other therapy cats join! -Patty & Mokey and Muppet, the therapy cats, & dog Crystal
—Guest Patty

My own experience with autism

As far as I know (this has never been officially diagnosed, but I am confident it is the case...!) I suffer from "Asperger's Syndrome," which is a form of autism! As well, I have been owned by at least one cat since 1973, when I first left my family home! I find that cats mirror my own personality...and are thus MUCH easier to relate to than dogs (whose deference to their "owners" can be easily explained by the concept of "Dominance Hierarchy!"). Currently, I am "owned" by Ecru (the ecru cat), who was an "only kitten" of "Mama Cat," a feral dilute tortoise-shell who took up residence at my abode (to my delight!) a year or two after I moved in! Essentially, I CANNOT comprehend my fellow humans...however, I CAN comprehend my resident cat(s)! Ecru is my own personal "therapy" for my clinical depression! Steven C. Barr stevenc@interlinks.net
—Guest Steven C. Barr

Along came a chatty Cat

My daughter is also living with Autism. She has Asperger's Syndrome which is considered a less severe form of Autism. She struggled with emotional attachments, and understanding that others had feelings and responded to her displays of emotion. Then we adopted a Calico cat with a touch of Siamese in her bent tail. We named her Mystique and she bonded with my daughter. Mystique talks and rowels, purrs and cuddles with my daughter. And she puts up with being held, snuggled, being stuffed into the front of a sweat shirt and sleeping at the foot of the bed. But she also listens and responds to My girl's long involved conversations. I often get the feeling that Mystique understands English, in particular English as filtered through an Asperger's mind. My daughter has learned empathy as well as learning to express affection in cat acceptable ways. Mystique is a miracle cat, she is also an art critic. When Mystique likes a drawing she lets you know.
—DameNickum

Along came chatty cat

Many readers may be unfamiliar with the autism spectrum. Autism has degrees of severity. At the one end is the person who has autism with co-morbid mental retardation. This person usually has poor self-help skills and needs assistance in the most basic things such as preparing a meal. At the other end there is the "high functioning" person who has average to above average intelligence. This person goes to school, can get a degree, marry, raise a family, and have a career. Pure autism is a communiction disorder in the brain. Contrary to what one may suspect, people with higher levels of intelligence, but are on the autistic spectrum suffer more. They need some living being to connect with who understands them and who serves as a mentor on communication. Cats provide that kind of mentoring, because they are patient. They also use body language that the person must learn to translate into words and ideas. This responds to the very area where people with Asperger struggle.
—jmanerling

My Cats Saved My Life

I was in the hospital, not expected to live, suffering from some strange wasting disease. I had 8 cats at home, no family, only a neighbor who was feeding them. I knew if I died, they would too. This knowledge gave me the push to hang on until whatever I had ran it's course and I recovered. I was hospitalized for a month, in and out of a coma. Needles to say I'm back and all my cats lived to their teens. They are at the "Rainbow Bridge" now and I am starting a new cat family.
—Guest Mitch Mason

Andrew

Our cat Andrew was born to a feral mother who had moved in under our one-room house and eventually had her kittens inside. From the beginning, Andrew appeared different from the other kittens. He climbed out of the kittens' box, and on to my daughter's pillow, every chance he got. He was quiet and observant, seemed to feel he was on this earth to protect our daughter Sarah, who had been diagnosed with Autism at age two. When a huge beetle flew in the window, Andrew batted the creature back out the window before it could get to Sarah. Still a kitten, Andrew killed a rat, almost as big as he was, which had been coming toward our porch. Andy ate 2 black widow spiders which had come in on my husband's work clothes, before they reached Sarah's bed, where he kept constant watch over her at night and slept himself during the day. Andrew got Sarah through every problem and cared for her more than for himself, for 91/2 years. A car hit him as he ran home to her. We lost our Saint.
—Guest Jean Jones

Cats are Purrfect!

I haven't had a personal need for therapy but when my mom was dealing with cancer her kitty, Kieara, companionship gave her strength. I have read of cats being used in therapy not only with people with autism but also with soldiers who have come back from the Middle East with PTSD. Cats work better than dogs because their more laid-back. (not to mention very loving). If God ever provides me the opportunity I'd love to set-up a therapy program for people with autism and PTSD using cats and horses as the therapy animals. (Cats are WAY under-rated as a therapy animal).
—Guest Julianne

Cats in Nursing Homes are Great!

I worked at a facility years ago where there lived a cat who stayed in a resident's room with her. That lean, black cat stretched herself out next to the bedridden woman's side and they were together most of the day and night. Her fractured and tortured back did not allow her to sit in a chair and getting to the shower was so painful! I'm sure that cat gave her great comfort. It took little of the employees' time to clean the litter and put down the food. The housekeeper kept the bathroom floor clean and I never heard any complaints.
—Ursuladnana

Sign Language Cats

My cat has several "signs" that he has taught me so that I know what it is that he wants. Besides standing next to what he requires me to move, change, open, or adjust, he has developed several "hand signs" that I can read. He puts his tongue out and in quickly if he wants food. He licks his face if he wants water. He lifts his right paw half way up in the air if he wants me to scratch his head or face. If his anal glands are bothersome, he turns and presents his butt with his tail in the air. He stops and "asks" me if I'm going to lie on the bed when he jumps up on it. If I had known that he wanted to develop language, I would have worked with him on it. Later in life, my cat became totally deaf, and the sign language, intuition, and other body language between us, was our communication. Cats are incredibly intelligent and I think that often we do not, as humans, help them reach their full potential to interact with us. My next kitten and I will have a larger common language.
—Guest Ursuladnana

My therapy service cat

The therapy cat is 18 years old and helps with many tasks. He alleviates anxiety and reduces depression. I have ADHD, memory lapses, and procrastinate with daily living tasks. My cat does the following (or should I say, he leads): reminds me to clean the litter and change the water in his fountain, lets me know if someone has been at my door, lets me know if the garbage should be out, picks the foods he wants to eat, can hear the fax and voicemail and lets me know if there are new messages, tries to get me open and close the blinds to adjust for light or to see outside, and at times has requested that I move furniture and change linens. He requests care with his claws, eyes, and skin and hair. He does all this by standing next to or presenting the area he wants improved or noticed, and then stares at me. If I'm not fast enough he pushes me with his head and if that doesn't work, he bites. Fortunately, I know to complete his requests sooner than later, to avoid his teeth. Service Cat!!!
—Ursuladnana

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