Charity Pets As Therapy is arranging visits to nursing and care homes to share the love a cat can bring.
Cat lovers probably hope that as they enter the golden years of their lives there will be a loving moggy to stroke, who will sit on their lap, purr, and bring some much-needed comfort. However, for many older people a move into residential care or assisted living means giving up a pet and learning to live without any animal interaction. But the charity Pets As Therapy (PAT) is trying to change this by arranging regular visits to nursing and care homes to share the love that only cats can bring. Three owners of PAT cats tell us more…
Most people have heard of dogs volunteering with Pets As Therapy but are surprised to hear that cats do visits too. Maybe that’s why beautiful Ragdoll Sabrina loves volunteering so much — she’s a cat who hangs out with dogs so much she thinks that she is one!
Her owner, Shirley Hinchliffe, has been breeding Bearded Collies for more than 40 years and the blue tortie cat is one of the gang with her four canine ‘brothers.’
“She’s like a dog,” said Shirley, who lives in Ipswich. “I take her and Bill, Beau, Baggins, and Bungo out to a secure dog field and they all run around together. Her and Baggins are particularly friendly — he likes to check she’s OK, as if he is her mother. Beau is scared of her and will keep out of her way!”
Shirley, 66, had been volunteering with PAT with Baggins and Bungo for a while when she rehomed Sabrina from a breeder. The stunning pedigree cat was five at the time and was used to being shown and had won several titles.
“I had had other cats but their temperament was never right to be a PAT cat,” said Shirley. “But with Sabrina I knew immediately that she would love it — and bring love to lots of others. She really likes to talk to people and she has absolutely no fear of anything, maybe because she does think she’s a dog!”
Shirley worked in social care and had seen the benefits of pets going to visit older people. For the past 12 years, Sabrina has regularly visited five nursing and residential homes in Ipswich, where she will meet residents in the communal areas or, if they are unwell, in their rooms. Sadly, with strict Covid regulations since the pandemic started, their number of her visits has had to be curtailed.
Even with less regular volunteering sessions, the visits can be transformative for residents. Shirley said: “You can see what a difference Sabrina makes to the people she visits. Some residents, for example, have dementia and when I show them Sabrina, a happy look spreads across their face and they break into a smile.
“For the more able people, her visits are something to look forward to. I get messages from the care homes as the residents are asking when she will be in again and she’s a talking point in so many ways.
“Many of the residents who really love Sabrina’s visits have had cats themselves but now can’t have them any more as they are living in residential care.”
Shirley says that it’s very rewarding as an owner to be able to take Sabrina and the dogs on volunteer visits. As for Sabrina, how does she find it? “She loves going out volunteering, especially with older people. She’s just such a loving cat and laps up all the attention,” explained Shirley.
At 17, Sabrina is getting on in years too. Shirley says that they will continue to volunteer as long as the vet says she’s healthy enough and the Ragdoll is still enjoying it: “Although she’s quite old herself, I can see that she loves going on visits. Sabrina really is a special cat and she spreads so much love wherever she goes.”
The pair are long-term PAT volunteers
PAT cat for life
Pretty Daisy May has been a PAT cat all her life! Once she was old enough to volunteer — at nine months old — she started visiting older people in Heathland Court care home in Wimbledon, London. The lilac tabby Birman has been going twice a week to cheer up residents — and now she is nearly nine!
Her owner, Clare d’Adhemar, says Daisy May thrives on her visits: “She is literally amazing. When we visit the home, we will firstly go and visit the residents who are poorly and so are in their rooms. Daisy May will sit on their beds — she is so chilled and cuddly — and loves to be stroked or nuzzle in and give them Daisy May kisses.
“One time, there was a lady who was 108 and her body and her sight had failed her but her mind was as sharp as a pin. Sadly, she had outlived her family and friends, but we were able to visit her as much as she wanted. When we visited her face came to life and she started chatting to us while Daisy May gently lay beside her with her paws on her hands.”
After individual visits, Daisy May will walk to the shared parts of the care home and walk between residents, getting a stroke and a cuddle here and there. “She loves the attention,” Clare added.
In fact, Daisy May — named after a favourite aunt of Clare’s — is a real extrovert and travels all over with Clare, on the train, the car, the bus, and the tube. “Nothing ever troubles her — she’s never hissed or even put her claws out,” added the semi-retired nursery nurse.
Cuddling a resident
Sadly, Covid-19 meant that the pair’s volunteering has had to be restricted. “I have underlying health issues so I have had to shield for the past 16 months — and I am no longer a spring chicken,” explained Clare, 77. “But then Daisy May has been there for me during that time and been my therapy cat at home. I’ve had problems with my mental health too during the pandemic and she has been like my own little fluffy nurse. I’m hoping that we can get back to regular visits soon.”
Clare added: “I have always been so grateful that Daisy May has been there for me, but during Covid she really made the difference to my health and happiness.”
Visiting Holbeach Hospital.
Ouzo the cat is such a stunner with her pure white fur and different coloured eyes that she could have been a model — but the only catwalks she struts up and down are homes and hospitals where she volunteers with Pets As Therapy (PAT).
The Maine Coon particularly loves to visit older people in a local church group on the Wash where she lives and in Holbeach Hospital — and she doesn’t let her deafness hold her back.
“I’d never thought about any of my cats being therapy cats but Ouzo showed me herself that she would be perfect,” said her owner Sharon Essam. “My gran was very poorly and at the time was receiving palliative care, living from a hospital bed placed in her lounge. But she was desperate to see my new white kittens.”
As her gran was too ill to travel, Sharon took Ouzo and her brother Champagne on the two-hour drive to meet her. Her gran immediately lit up when she put the basket of kittens on her bed.
“Champagne jumped down but Ouzo allowed Gran to touch and stroke her. When Ouzo snuggled down to cuddle Gran, her face was a picture. She seemed to forget everything else — the pain and exhaustion — and just enjoyed the moment.”
Sharon said that she had seen the same thing happen in the hospital too when they visited older people. “They are taken out of their current situation by Ouzo, so they leave their cares for a time and just enjoy the interactions with this amazing fluffy white cat. I see the joy she brings — and the joy she gets back from her visits. It’s wonderful to watch. Ouzo has some wonderful kind of magic!”
Ouzo loves getting out.
Sharon and her husband, Jonathan, have always rehomed white cats, but Ouzo is the first deaf cat that the pair have owned. She said that 22 years ago, when they were looking for their first cat, nobody wanted pure white cats. They were often abandoned and then would not be rehomed due to worries about their deafness and fears about them getting cancer of the skin. So, the couple decided to concentrate on giving their love to white cats or mainly white cats.
Over the years, they have had 11 white cats — all named after pure spirits as Jonathan is in the wine and spirit trade — and they now have four gorgeous white cats: Ouzo, Champagne, five, Asti,15, and Galliano, who is about 12. Out of all the cats, Ouzo is the only deaf one and she doesn’t let her disability stand in her way — also being Sharon’s only PAT cat because of her amazing temperament. The RSPCA rescue cat even knows five signs, such as ‘come here’ and ‘stop’, and relishes being out and about meeting new people.
Ouzo sees people at church.
Sharon, 50, said: “Ouzo comes with us to church and to church groups and she will walk around to say hello to everyone and then settle down on mine or someone else’s lap for the service. We have also visited care homes — although with Covid that has become more difficult — and we visit Holbeach Hospital about once a month.
“Ouzo will visit the people and spark memories of their own pets or simply give them a cuddle. She has been to see very sick patients who are ‘locked in’ and unable to communicate but their blank expression changes when they see Ouzo.
“She really does love volunteering and walks around, strutting her stuff, and then she will pick someone out to settle on.”
Primary schoolteacher Sharon said that when Ouzo, who is about five, is out working as a PAT cat she is always calm and gentle but when she gets home she will tear around the house. As soon as she sees her PAT harness though, she becomes calm and gentle again, as if she knows she has a job to do.
Sharon added: “The joy she brings to us on a daily basis is immense, but the faces she lights up, the memories she triggers, and the conversations she starts means she touches the hearts of a far wider audience.”