Therapy cats share their healing powers in many situations, but their magic starts with their owners.
Ginger and white Carrots lost his sight as a kitten but that hasn’t stopped him from spreading love and giving support to people who are seriously ill — and that includes his owner.
The fluffy tomcat first started visiting the Marie Curie hospice in Bradford in 2018 as a Pets As Therapy volunteer but at home he also supports his owner, Katie Lloyd, who has a rare type of brain tumour called anaplastic astrocytoma which requires medication and a continuous cycle of chemotherapy.
“He may not be able to see with his eyes,” said Katie, “but he sees with his heart. He has no preconceptions from being able to see. Everything comes from how he’s feeling — and everything in his life is always sunny.
“He’s very cuddly and if I’m having a bad day, he comes and comforts me. He seems to have a sixth sense and knows when I need an emotional lift, maybe because of my treatment or through tiredness, and will sit on my bed and snuggle up to me.”
Carrots was found abandoned as a tiny kitten and taken to the rescue that Katie runs — Bradford Cat Watch Rescue, which specialises in taking in and looking after severely disabled and critically ill cats. When he was found he was small, underweight, and very poorly, with one eye missing and the other badly infected — and it didn’t look like he was going to make it. At just five weeks old, he had to have major surgery to remove his infected eye and it was touch and go whether he would survive.
Carrots won the Blue Cross Medal.
Katie, 43, said: “We called him Carrots as he needed a name but as we didn’t think he was going to make it, we didn’t want to ‘waste’ a good name — and now the poor lad has been stuck with it ever since! It was truly amazing that he survived his tough start in life and now he’s a big 5kg fluff ball!”
For years Carrots visited the hospice twice a week and soon became a furry legend with patients and staff. In 2020, Carrots won the prestigious Blue Cross Medal, which honours inspirational pets who have changed lives for the better, in recognition of his work as a therapy cat.
Love is blind
Unfortunately, due to Covid and being clinically vulnerable, Katie has had to stop volunteering with Carrots at the hospice, but he has been her pillar of strength during the pandemic: “When Carrots first arrived, I knew immediately that there was something special about him. He has been my companion for many years, helping me get through some of the hardest times of my life.
“Whenever I am going through my treatment, he seems to have some kind of intuition that I need additional comforting.”
Carrots as a kitten.
Carrots is an affectionate cat who enjoys ‘helping’ around the rescue. “We have about 22 permanent residents and Carrots gets on with all of them,” said Katie.“When we have a new arrival, he will help with settling them in.”
Katie, who has been having treatment for 10 years, said that Carrots and the other cats at the rescue keep her going. “Carrots really is a one-off. He’s the UK’s only blind therapy cat and his loving personality means he touches the hearts of everyone he meets — and, for me, he will always hold a special part of my heart. Carrots sees with his heart and love is blind.”
Arthur — bringing light to the darkness of lockdown
The pandemic was a difficult time for many; not being able to see friends and family, worrying about the future, and being stuck at home.
One small, abandoned kitten helped a family through the difficulties of lockdown — made especially hard due to terminal illness — and is still spreading joy today.
Arthur is a rescue kitten.
Mother-of-two Cheryl Hague, from Sheffield, adopted a kitten from the RSPCA in October 2020 and said it really helped her daughters Lauren (then 16) and Zoe (then 14) through a particularly challenging time in their lives.
“Arthur has changed our lives,” said Cheryl. “He’s not a trained therapy cat or anything, just an ‘ordinary’ rescue cat who has brought so much happiness into our lives — much more than we could have anticipated.”
Lockdown was hard for the family. The girls were fed up at home. It felt like they had nothing to do and they could not see their friends. On top of that they were coming to terms with the fact that their grandma, who they were very close to, was terminally ill with oesophagus cancer.
Cheryl says Arthur has helped her daughters.
Cheryl, 46, said: “Arthur brought light into our family at a very dark time. Like everyone, we found lockdown unpleasant but I think it was more so for children and especially teenagers who missed school and their friends and going out in general. They didn’t have much to get up for so they would just lie in bed.
“And their beloved grandma was fading in front of them and they couldn’t even kiss or cuddle her when we went to visit. We couldn’t even go into the house. The girls kept positive for me and were really great, but I knew they were really hurting. Lockdown made a really difficult situation so much worse.”
Then one day when Cheryl, a press officer for the RSPCA, was working from home and writing a press appeal about kittens who had been found dumped in a carrier bag in a park in Birmingham, Zoe saw a photo of them on her mum’s computer — and was immediately drawn to one of them, as then was Lauren. “I’d never had a cat before and I was worried about our rescue dog Bruno feeling snubbed,” said Cheryl. “But he looked so cute and I thought a kitten would help the girls and give them something really positive to love and care for.”
The family named the little kitten Arthur as they thought he looked like the character of the same name from the series ‘Peaky Blinders’ — they both have ginger moustaches and he was found in Birmingham where the show is set. And the small kitten changed the family’s life for the better.
Cheryl said: “Bringing Arthur into our home really helped us all. The girls were smiling and laughing more. He is very affectionate when he wants to be and also very mischievous so they love laughing at his naughty antics, like climbing the curtains and hiding from the dog so he could playfully pounce on him. It made the atmosphere in the house so much more positive and even the dog seemed to like his naughty streak.”
Bruno's best friend!
When Covid restrictions eased, the family also used to take the kitten up to visit their grandma during the latter stages of her illness and he always made her smile — she was really taken with him.
“Due to the treatment, mum had become a bit confused and watching a really bright and active person become someone else was awful,” said Cheryl. “But when we took Arthur to see her, she really lit up and was saying what a cute kitten he was. She was even playing ball with him and it was nice to see her smiling and it took our mind off the bleaker times.”
Sadly, their grandma passed away on Lauren’s 17th birthday, aged 80, just a fortnight before Christmas, but Arthur’s antics climbing up the Christmas tree and knocking down decorations provided a welcome distraction.
Cheryl said that even two years later Arthur was bringing lots of smiles and laughter to the family. “He is such a fun character and so loveable. He is a very bright cat and also very cute. I think he has helped Bruno too and has livened him up, especially when they play together.”
He has a naughty streak!
Cheryl and her daughters are now keen to support the RSPCA even more than ever and to let people know that it’s easy to donate to the charity by calling 0300 123 8181. She added: “We are so glad that we got Arthur. He may just seem like an ‘ordinary’ rescue cat but he’s everything to us and there are so many rescue cats needing homes who are ready to give love to a new owner.
“Arthur loves affection and he just brings a loving and positive vibe to our family.”
The next PAT cat?
Could your cat volunteer with Pets As Therapy?
PAT is a UK charity that sees volunteers with their pets visit establishments such as care homes, hospitals, hospices, schools, and prisons to bring smiles to people’s faces.
To become a volunteer with your cat, there is an online form to fill in about yourself and your pet to begin the process.
Visit petsastherapy.org to find out more.