Therapy Cat Series: Rainy During The Pandemic

Back in early March, Rainy and I expanded the number of seniors we visited, and we started our third Read to a Pet session. With warmer weather on the horizon, I was also looking forward to taking both Rainy and Cinder on outings in their pet transport backpacks. How life has changed in two months as a result of the global pandemic!

The first change happened in March when we showed up for our regular therapy cat visit at a local senior retirement center only to be told that no one other than family were being allowed to visit due to the pandemic. I returned to my car with Rainy and cried. One of the seniors that we normally visit was in poor health; it’s unlikely we’ll see her again. Another senior gets easily depressed but our visits always cheer him up. By the time I returned home, I had come up with a Plan B. There’s always a Plan B, right? I decided that if we couldn’t visit our seniors, we could at least write to them. And so, each week since our visits ended, I’ve mailed a letter about Rainy to our regulars.

The second change also happened in March when I received a notice that all library programs would be closed until future notice. I sighed. The week prior, a parent had told me of how beneficial the Read to a Pet program had been to his son’s to the improvement of his son’s reading skills. In addition, the Read to a Pet program had given Rainy a much-loved opportunity to visit children. That the program would be put on hold indefinitely was a disappointment to me, but not surprising given the circumstances. Elsewhere across the country, other therapy cat teams had already received similar notifications and had shared their Plan Bs in an online cat therapy group. I followed their lead by contacting parents who had signed their children up for Read to a Pet and offered to instead conduct reading sessions through Zoom.

One family took me up on my offer. For two months, Rainy and I had 30-minute weekly reading sessions with their son. The son read a book each week, including one he practiced specifically for Rainy. I got to witness him take the brave step of switching from reading a series that he was comfortable with to reading new books. I also got to brainstorm writing ideas with his mom. Her son wrote a paragraph one week for Rainy. Another week he filled out a Mad Lib that I had created about Rainy. Another bonus was he got to meet my other two cats and our dog.

Although the country is slowly starting to open, it’s unknown when some facilities such as senior retirement communities will follow suit. I’m excited therefore that Rainy and I will son have another online therapy opportunity! Pets Together, an initiative from Animal Farm Foundation, is matching pet teams with a wide variety of folks who live in residential communities or other facilities. I’ll post an interview with a representative of the organization at Lincoln Pet Culture later in the month, along with a report of our experience with Pets Together.

As for spring outings with our cats, we can still take walks outside. In fact, I videotaped one in April. Our outings are different than I’d hoped, however, because we can’t visit stores or restaurants or even parks. Instead I’m using this time of social distancing as an opportunity to work through do enrichment activities with them from books in my library. I reported on my first series of activities at How Smart is Your Pet? Next up I’ll be working through a book called Beyond Squeaky Toys. I’m psyched to offer enrichment ideas to my followers that are for both cats AND dogs.

I’ll share one last opportunity that recently came my way. Space Cat Academy has launched a Trick of the Month Club subscription program for five dollars a month. Instructor Tori Peterson describes it as, “Your exclusive pass to behind-the-scenes training, two levels of tricks for the month, and a community of people interested in continuing to build an amazing bond with their cats!” I’m trying the tricks with all three of our cats AND with Mama Cottrell at Cotner Pet Care. The first beginner trick is “Paw Target,” and the first advanced trick is “Cross Your Paws.” Already I’ve appreciated the opportunities to ask questions and upload videos for feedback. I’ll post an interview with a representative of the organization at Lincoln Pet Culture later in the month, along with a report of our experiences with Space Cat Academy.

Do you have a cat that has been trained in therapy, agility, or some other skill? Rainy will soon need new interviewees for my blog and for her Instagram account! If you’re interested, contact me at: allisontalkspets@gmail.com

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