Cats, so often viewed as aloof and uncaring, are breaking into the therapy animal field. They visit patients in the medical community and provide them with love, affection, and an animal that will spend a few minutes giving them undivided attention. True, this is predominantly a roll considered to be for dogs, but despite the misconception, some breeds of cats are very human loving and affectionate.
Animal Assisted Therapy, or AAT, is the use of animals to help treat or comfort people with a variety of ailments. A team of doctors, nurses, and psychologists will review each patient and decide if a visit from an AAT pet will assist in recovery and then decide what animal will be best- There are even some therapy PIGS! Dogs may be the most common pets used in AAT, but cats are beginning to catch up.
So why would patients want to see a cat instead of a dog? Ask anyone who has ever had the joy of owning a cat. After a long, hard day at work, the last thing you want to come home to is an excitable, bounding dog. Even the most people-dependent of cats won't be jumping up to knock you over. They'll hop lightly onto your lap and allow you pet away all your cares and worries. They do the same for those in nursing homes and hospital beds. In fact, this natural, soothing calmness of cats is used in places such as mental health and correctional facilities as caring for a pet (especially a cat) requires the creation and perpetuation of a daily routine. Simply daily tasks such as brushing out a long-haired cat can be a form of physical therapy or psychological therapy for some people. Not to mention the size difference. Where some people may not like the large size of a dog, the small-ness of a cat is ideal.
For a cat to become a therapy cat, they have to meet a list of qualifications. An AAT cat should be at least one year old and have a good personality. This doesn't necessarily mean that they have to be affectionate, just that they have an affable and pleasant personality free of things like scratching and biting. However, even the most pleasant of cats may not be cut out for the job. It is important that you and your cat get involved in a training program so that you can see how they will handle the exposure. They will be exposed to a number of germs, so those that are middle aged are likely to remain healthier than old and young cats. A good training program will go over all of these things, as well as harness training, noise training and working with your cat to sit and lie quietly while being petted. Attending these sessions and getting to know the group you'll be working with is a critical portion of getting your cat to become an AAT cat.
Giving your pet the chance to interact with other animal lovers that may not be able to see their own cats is a wonderful opportunity for both you and your cats to bring joy into someone's life. It gives patients of all ages a chance to have a pet even if they are not at home. For more information on AAT, contact www.loveonaleash.org, www.deltasociety.org, or your local humane society.
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