So, you may or may not have heard of therapy cats before. What are they? Can you adopt one? How do they help people? Can you train your cat to become a therapy cat? Will it cost you anything?
This guide on therapy cats will answer all of these and some other essential questions. And who knows? It might even inspire you to become a volunteer and aid therapy kitties in saving more lives than you could imagine – human and feline alike.
What Is A Therapy Cat?
To put it simply, a therapy cat is a trained and certified feline who helps youngsters, adults and elders through human-animal interaction.
Similarly to therapy horses and other animals, therapy cats offer comfort to those in need of some help while battling either physical or emotional health complications.
Therapy cats are becoming more popular, as they are proving to work wonders.
It’s been proven that the human-animal interaction with therapy pets is beneficial for coping with:
- Physical illnesses in elderly and disabled people
- Behavioral problems in teenagers and youngsters
- Emotional distress in hospital patients of all ages
Cat therapy is a common practice in care homes, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, juvenile detention centers and other facilities.
Therapy pets can significantly ease the pains of patients suffering from a variety of health disorders – from heart strokes to autism and even to suicidal depression.
Despite the fact that cats in general are often depicted as whimsical and sometimes even potentially dangerous, therapy cats are professionally certified, fully trained, experienced and utterly reliable animals.
How Can You Get A Therapy Cat?
Cat therapy works in two ways.
The kitties are suitable for isolated individual cases and for facilities where they help a larger number of people.
In other words, you can opt for a therapy cat as a personal pet or benefit from the services therapy cats do for groups in various institutions.
Therapy Cats For Facilities
If you or any of your relatives are being treated in a facility, you can help everyone around you by appointing therapy cat visits in said institution. You don’t need to be the owner of the organization in order to benefit from the program.
Numerous animal therapy non-profit organizations are holding events and scheduling visits for groups of people who could benefit from human-animal interaction in a healing and soothing way. Due to the ever-growing popularity of animal therapy, facilities in metropolitan areas, as well as in secluded suburbs, have equal chances of signing up for therapy programs.
- Animals 4 Therapy already has a long list of schools, rehab centers, hospitals, libraries and other facilities, which are visited by their therapy animals. Nevertheless, they’re always open to welcoming new facilities into their program.
- Pet Partners organizes therapy animal visits with cats, dogs, horses, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits and other species. These guys have more than 13k active teams of therapy pets and owners on the territory of the US.
These are just the top two organizations, which offer cat therapy services for different facilities.
Since therapy pets undisputedly improve mental and physical health, there’s also a plethora of small organizations, which cover only local areas. Do keep in mind that non-trained and non-certified pets can’t enter a pet therapy program. Meaning, the therapy kitty you come across will be just as good as any other therapy animal, regardless of the organization.
Therapy Cats As Personal Pets
You can still benefit from interacting with a therapy cat even if you’re not a patient at a nursing or care facility.
It may sound surprising, but you can actually get a special prescription that allows you to become the owner of a therapy pet.
The perks of having such a prescription include numerous advantageous privileges.
For example, you’ll be fully eligible to own a furball in a no-pet apartment building or dormitory, to use the services of no-pet airlines by taking your cat onboard, and so forth.
ESADoctors are a group of licensed professionals offering special evaluations, diagnosis and prescriptions that will help you get a therapy cat. Obtaining the licensed ESA prescription is one of the easiest ways to get a therapy companion.
Where Can You Get A Therapy Cat?
Certified therapy cats are the personal pets of cat parents who have chosen to volunteer for the greater good. Sadly, the volunteering means spending months and even years in training, paying for courses, exams, certificates, membership fees….
You won’t find certified therapy cats available for adoption or for sale anywhere.
However, there are three basic ways to benefit from a therapy cat’s healing and comforting interaction.
- You can either visit facilities where therapy cats are appointed,
- You can get a prescription to have one yourself, or
- You can train your own kitty to become a professional therapy pet
Turning a domestic or rescue cat into a therapy cat doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t come cheap. Nevertheless, it’s absolutely worth the efforts if it can help you and other people.
The Denver International Airport offers therapy cats for weary or stressed out passengers as part of their CATS program, which also includes therapy dogs.
PALS (Pet Access League Society) help countless people each year with their feline and canine therapy animals.
According to their own data, about 20% of the people in their pet therapy program are kids and teenagers.
The Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center based in New York is currently offering therapy programs only for dogs, but they have plenty of kitties waiting to be adopted.
Additionally, you can look for local pet shelters in your area. Most cats out there have the potential to become a therapy cat.
How To Train Your Pet To Become A Therapy Cat
Being the owner of a professional therapy cat has substantial benefits for you and your relatives. That’s a given. But there’s nothing better than knowing that you and your cat as a team have the chance of helping tons of other people.
Adopting a cat and successfully obtaining a therapy pet status guarantees that you’ll improve at least two lives with this human-animal interaction – your own and your rescue cat’s life.
And if you decide to become a member of pet therapy organizations, you will also be able to improve (or even save) the lives of others who are in need of some quality time with a cute kitty.
Pets do aid us tremendously in ways we can’t even imagine. If you and your cat can ease even one person’s suffering or prevent a suicide – all that training will be worth it.
Certified therapy cats are obedient, easy-going and fond of social interaction. This means that you must train your pet to respond to basic commands. Sure, everyone will laugh at the misdemeanors of a whimsical cat, but you can’t let a headstrong, reserved or unpredictable animal roam around sick, disabled or otherwise unstable people.
The ideal therapy cat must feel absolutely comfortable around strangers, be they noisy children or elders with unsteady hands.
Socialize the cat with other animals, familiarize it with startling sounds and unknown scents. Guide it through the process of learning commands and even tricks. The more obedient and tolerant your cat is, the higher chances it has of passing with flying colors. Just keep in mind that you mustn’t force the kitty. If the training isn’t going anywhere, opt for the services of a professional trainer. Unfortunately, while each cat has potential, not every furball is cut out for a therapy cat.
Apart from passing training, your feline candidate will also need to meet some additional requirements. In order to receive a certificate from any organization, the cat must comply with all of their rules.
The basic requirements include a certain age (kittens must be at least a year old), a strict documentation of health history (your vet can help you with it), a no-raw diet policy and some other variables.
For example, some organizations will want the cats to have lived with their pet parent for at least 6 months. Other organizations will demand that your cat knows how to walk on a leash. And most organizations will also want to get a full documentation of your own health history.
You shouldn’t worry about such variables. Each animal therapy organization aims at helping people and their rules are always transparent.
Prepare to pay mandatory fees if you’re looking for a certification. Even if you’ve already spent a great deal of money on training courses by famous trainers and behaviorists, you’ll still need to pay for the final certificates. They are the official documents, which indicate that your cat is a legalized therapy animal.
The fees start from $100+ . Depending on the organization and the paperwork, the certificate might cost you a small fortune.
You and your cat will need to pass a number of tests and inspections for health and behavior. Regardless of how cute your kitty is, you won’t get a certificate, unless it passes the tests. And comes the probation period. The latter one may span over several months during which the kitty will visit strangers in various facilities.
Where To Apply
Last, but not least, here’s a short list of some of the best organizations that focus on pet therapy. All of them have volunteering programs in which you can enroll your cat. You can also opt for memberships, donations, event organizing and other ways to help animals and humans alike.
- Pet Partners
- Love On A Leash
- Love Kuching Project
- Pets As Therapy
- Wags For Hope is welcoming cats and dogs. According to their website, they’re also accepting other species on an individual basis.
You can also consult with your vet on any local pet therapy programs or nearby organizations, which can help you train your cat and obtain a certificate. Just because some programs are more popular than others, it doesn’t mean they’re “better”. Every pet therapy organization’s goal is to help animals and human beings, so don’t rule out the smaller ones.