Lincoln Pet Culture’s series of interviews with therapy cats resumes this week! My therapy cat Rainy sat down to do an online interview with Jenny. She is registered with Therapeutic Paws of Canada (www.tpoc.ca ) and visits once a week at St. Joseph’s Life Care, a long-term care home in Ontario. She also visit residents at the Stedman Hospice, which is just across the garden from St. Joe’s. Rainy’s interview with Jennie will also appear this month at Instagram.
RAINY: Why did your Mom want you to become a therapy cat?
JENNY: Mom had had another therapy cat before me. Her name was Filia and she was a lavender, purebred Ocicat. Filia was registered with Therapeutic Paws of Canada from 2006 until she had to retire in March, 2016. Filia visited at a few different seniors facilities in Brantford, Ontario. She died of kidney failure in May 2016. Mom said she really enjoyed having a therapy cat and hoped she would be able to find another cat who would be suitable. Filia LOVED being a therapy cat and was a brat if she didn’t get to see her friends twice a week. Me, I’m okay with being a therapy cat and enjoy all the snuggles and admiration, but probably do it more for Mom’s benefit than my own.
RAINY: How did your mom prepare you to become a therapy cat?
JENNY: Mom gave me a few months to adjust to my new home after she adopted me. I was just over a year old and had been through a lot, having six kitttens, being dumped at a barn, living at a shelter, etc. Suddenly I was in a house with two nice ladies and another cat.
Mom started taking me on outings. My favorite place to go was PetSmart because they had birdies! I got to travel in my sherpa bag and ride in the upper part of the shopping cart. I got used to wearing my harness, but never did get the hang of walking on a leash, and so Mom bought me a stroller. I figured why walk when you can ride!
In June 2017, I passed my evaluation with Therapeutic Paws of Canada. Mom figured I’d ace the test because we’d practice all the things on the list. I wasn’t afraid of being taken away from Mom, examined by a vet, approached by a noisy kid and a dog, etc. The worst part of the test was that we had to drive to a place called Toronto and there was horrible traffic and it took three hours to get there! The testing took almost an hour (delayed because of people being caught in traffic) and then two hours home! But I slept through most of the car ride and was okay about waiting for the evaluation. After passing the test we went on a few supervised visits with the leader of the local TPOC team.
RAINY: What is it like being a therapy cat in Canada?
JENNY: When it’s cold Mom makes me wear a jacket, even though I’m in a warm car and in my sherpa bag. It can be cold being pushed across the parking lot in my stroller. I wish my stroller had snow tires (though where we live doesn’t get as much snow as many other parts of Canada).
There is only one organization (Therapeutic Paws of Canada) in all of Canada that certifies therapy cats. St. Johns Ambulance does therapy dogs but not cats.
From what Mom has read, there are different rules for therapy cats in Canada than there are in the U.S. I don’t have to have a bath (thank heavens!) and our local hospital accepts therapy cats. (Filia used to visit there regularly and I have done one special request visit to a place called the Intensive Care Unit.) I have to wear a special scarf with the TPOC logo on it and am not allowed to wear any other clothes like fancy scarves or ties like some therapy cats do. Mom has to wear a special shirt with the TPOC logo on it.
That makes us official and means we have something called insurance. I’d never do anything to hurt anyone, because I am very gentle and calm, but Mom seems to think that insurance is a good thing. I’ve never even thought about biting or scratching anyone, but then Mom makes sure that no one does anything bad to me or anything that would scare me.
The place I visit each week, St. Joseph’s Lifecare (aka St. Joe’s), is a wonderful place. It is a government-subsidized, not-for-profit, long-term care facility for 206 residents. Most residents are elderly (many in their late 80’s and 90’s). The staff are very nice and I try to spend some time with them too as their jobs can be very stressful. Some of the people have dementia which often means they ask the same question over and over but that’s okay. I’ve learned many languages as often the residents speak to me in a language other than English. It’s sad when one of our friends die, but that’s the reality of visiting at long term care.
When a new resident moves in, the staff let Mom know if the person particularly likes animals, especially cats. I’m very lucky that the facility I visit allows me to come whenever Mom and I are available. We try to go on Saturday or Sunday afternoon as these are times when it is quite boring for the residents because there aren’t many activities. One good thing about visiting at those times is that there are often families visiting and we get to know them too. At the end of each of our visits, Mom sends the volunteer co-ordinator a list of those residents that we visited so that it can be noted in their charts.
RAINY: How long have you been training?
JENNY: Mom spent about 10 months getting me used to being in my new home and practicing the things I would have to do as a therapy cat. Being calm by nature I didn’t have to learn that! I didn’t mind being brushed and combed (I have short hair and don’t shed much so once a week, just before our visits, does the trick). I quickly learned to tolerate having my nails trimmed too. It doesn’t hurt and I always get a lot of snuggles and praise afterwards. We practiced me riding around in my stroller at PetSmart and I met lots of humans (big and small) and quite a few dogs. I was fine with all that as long as the dogs didn’t bark at me. If they do, then they got heck, which was fun to watch!
RAINY: Why do you like being a therapy cat?
JENNY: I love stretching out on beds and recliners with my friends, particularly those that have fluffy blankets. I like riding around in my stroller. It’s great to have a place to relax or to go to if I don’t feel comfortable about what is going on around me (like the noisy linen cart rumbling down the hall). I figure if most of my new friends have wheels (walkers or wheel chairs), then if I have wheels I’ll fit right in. I often let Mom know when it’s time to leave one person and move along to the next by jumping in to my stroller. However if I’m settled in on a bed or lap and forget it’s time to move, Mom says my name, taps my stroller, and then I jump in to it (okay, most of the time, unless I’m really comfortable on a bed). I like being a therapy cat because it makes so many seniors happy and because it makes my Mom happy too. And it’s not a bad gig!
RAINY: Tell me the story of how your Mom got you.
JENNY: Mom went to a local rescue, Haven’s Hope, in June, 2016. She gave them a list of what T.P.O.C. required a therapy cat to be like (www.tpoc.ca/pet-evaluations). They had 41 cats and kittens at the time, but said there was only one who might fit those criteria. It was ME!
My name was Montana. I had been dumped at a barn with my six four-week old kittens. The farmer realized I had been someone’s pet and wouldn’t do well living in a barn. I wasn’t even a year old (It’s embarrassing to be a teenage Mom, but I was a very good mother).
The rescue was full, but they took me and my babies in on May 21, 2016, because they had two orphan kittens who they were having to bottle-feed every two hours. I was happy to nurse them along with my own kittens, because the rescue fed me as much food as I wanted and took good care of me.
Once my kittens were weaned and I was spayed, I became a den mother to 17 adolescent kittens who were awaiting adoption. Mom met me June 29, 2016, and formalized my adoption. However she was scheduled to go on a five-week holiday and asked Havens Hope if they’d keep me until they got home. They agreed and Mom visited me every day for a few days until she left on her holiday. She told me she’d be back. On August 22, 2016, I went to my forever home with her!
RAINY: Tell me more about your family members.
JENNY: Mom shares a house with her Aunt Jean (who is only eight years older than Mom and is more like a sister). Both Mom and Aunt Jean are retired which is nice because they are home more (when they aren’t travelling). Before they retired Mom was something called a research librarian and Aunt Jean was a university professor. They both volunteer—Mom at the emergency department at the local hospital and Aunt Jean at the local hospice.
When Mom and Aunt Jean bought a house together in 2006, they each had three cats. All of those cats have gone to kitty heaven except for Sunshine, an 18-year-old dilute calico. When I was adopted one of the requirements was that I be very respectful of Sunshine, who was 14 years old at the time. I knew that Sunshine was old and she probably didn’t want to play with me. I also knew that I wasn’t supposed to chase Sunshine. She lets me share her litter boxes upstairs in Aunt Jean’s bathroom and her water fountain too. I have my own litter boxes downstairs and a water fountain of my own in the kitchen, but it’s nice to have more choice!
RAINY: How do you react to other therapy cats and/or dogs?
JENNY: I’ve never met another therapy cat but I’d probably be okay with it. I liked other cats when I was at the rescue and I get along fine with Sunshine in our home. I didn’t mind the dogs I met at PetSmart and we’ve met a few dogs when we’ve been visiting.
RAINY: What ways do you cause your Mom trouble at home?
JENNY: I like to ‘hoover’ around the kitchen and see what there is on the floor that I can eat. I particularly like bread crumbs! I know I’m not supposed to get up on the kitchen counters or table, but when Sunshine is having wet food it’s really hard to resist. Mom says ‘AH’ in a loud voice and I KNOW I’ve been bad. So I get down and say I’m sorry.
One thing that doesn’t cause Mom trouble, but she finds a bit upsetting, is that I run and hide when ANYONE comes in to our house. At first it was just when men in uniforms came in to fix things, but then it got to be anyone—even friends who liked cats. The only thing Mom and Aunt Jean can figure out is that I must have been scared by strangers in my first home or something nasty happened to me. Now that I know this is my forever home I don’t want to have anything bad occur so I hide. I have a safe place very high up in the basement and I go there as soon as I hear anyone come in the front door. We had company who stayed for three days, and it was only at the end of the very last day that they got to meet me.
RAINY: What ways do you make your mom happy?
JENNY: I sit on her lap when she watches TV or movies. She used to knit but tried to eat the woo; and so she quit knitting. I’m much more important than a bunch of knitted hats for babies at the hospital! I also like to have naps with her and I spend most of the night sleeping with her.
RAINY: How do you promote therapy cats?
JENNY: I helped Mom write an article about me that was published in the Therapeutic Paws of Canada newsletter. And whenever there is a new therapy cat introduced on the TPOC Facebook page, I make sure Mom sends a welcome message to the newbie. There aren’t many therapy cats in TPOC but we have to stick together! Mom is friends with one member who has two therapy cats and they exchange messages quite regularly. When I’m visiting and anyone asks about therapy cats Mom makes sure to take the time to explain what was involved in the testing and that we are certified by a national organization.
RAINY: What advice do you have for aspiring therapy cats?
JENNY: Chill. Enjoy the attention! You are making a lot of folks very happy so feel proud of yourself.