Because I have been a therapy cat for quite a while now — over three years! — lots of people ask my human about how to train their cats to do therapy work. And my human is always happy to oblige because she wants to see more therapy cats out there, helping humans who are sick or in facilities. And there is a lot to know — harness and leash training, acclimating the cat to busy, noisy public spaces, getting used to regular nail trims and baths, etc.
But there is one thing they never ask about, and it’s actually a crucial part of therapy cat training: creating a rock-solid bond between the cat and their human.
The human-animal bond in therapy work is very important because on a visit, the human is basically acting as the animal’s bodyguard and support system. The animal has to know their human has their back, and that they will be safe no matter what. Because dogs are more trusting and are comfortable with a hierarchy, it’s fairly easy to establish this type of a bond, which goes a couple of steps beyond the regular dog-human relationship. With cats, it’s more difficult — and more crucial.
We kitties are both self-reliant (at least we think so), and a bit suspicious. We normally don’t like to trust someone else with our safety. That’s why many cats get upset at even the thought of going to the vet, and their humans often can’t calm them. Even though the cat loves her human, she is afraid of what is going to happen and does not believe her human will protect her.
The truth is there is really no specific way to train a cat to trust her human implicitly, and create that bond. It is built over time and experience. I had lots of practice going to other places before I got my therapy cat certification. My human and I traveled to countless cat shows, often in other cities or states, went to a bunch of pet stores, and we even have been to another country. Sure, I started off with a cool temperament and good disposition, but it was up to my human to show me that no matter where we went, she was looking out for me.
Even though this bond can’t really be taught, it needs to be learned. It’s one of those enigmas of the cat-human relationship. And it’s perhaps the most important part of therapy cat training.
Yes, that total trust is a difficult thing for kitties to learn.
Sherri-Ellen T-D. says
Meow meow mee wudnered how you bee-came a furrapee cat Summer…mee thinks a cat must bee calm an not easily spooked to bee a guud furapee cat. Mee wuud not bee so guud as mee has had a lot of neggytive inn-ter actionss with Hu’manss (minuss LadyMew).
Reememburr how ‘angel’ Unkell Siddhartha wuud go walkin an meet peepull here an vizzit with them?? Hee was so guud at beein a furapee cat!
Mee must mee-yow mee admires you so-o much Summer….
Timmy Tomcat says
That is an interesting part of training and we are so glad you brought it up. We had two episodes recently where Rumpy and Einstein got so worked up at the vets. I was not there and have decided that in the future I will or they will go back home. Thanks
Lola The Rescued cat says
You and your human have an amazing bond, and your human knows exactly what you need. Our mom says it’s pretty amazing.
Purrjamm Cats says
You and your mom are naturals. We admire all the great work you two do. Tireless and wholehearted. We truly admire all therapy animals. Purrs
Catscue Catmom says
You and your Mom are amazing Summer. I remember one post where your Mom talked about how she has trained herself to be calm at airports because you will pick up on any anxiety. That skill alone is incredible – if we all could learn the calm your Mom has, the world would be much happier.
That makes so much sense, Summer! We know your humans has your back, 100%!
We are SO admiring of your accomplishments, Summer. You and your human are amazing!
Purrz and live,
Selina and MK
Lesley Castle says
You are your mom’s baby! 🙂
Ellen Pilch says
That is so important. XO
Melissa & Mudpie says
“Even though the cat loves her human, she is afraid of what is going to happen and does not believe her human will protect her.” I have experienced this SO many times! You and your human have such an amazing bond, and I know it will only continue to grow.
Cathy Keisha says
It’s something to think about. Would you trust your human to keep you calm and protected during one of our severe thunderstorms? I feel Pop will always protect me but not in that situation.
Emma and Buster says
We hope your tribe increases.
Coco & The LunaTicks says
That’s really true. I think I could do it with Isaak, and MAYbeee Lorelai. Freddy is a little too self-reliant to do therapy. Not sure I will have that bond with Dash because he was older when I got him, but we’ll see.
The bond Jake and I had…I don’t know if that will ever happen again.
Prancer Pie says
We would love to see more therapy cats like you!
The Poupounette Gang says
That’s really interesting, Summer. In part, it is similar to humans; some are trusting and some are not. You clearly are and have a great bond with your human!
Tama and Genji
Katie Isabella says
I know every thing you said is right, Summer.
Rene S says
This an important thing. I remember that after Tucker died, someone had commented on that final photograph and the bond that we had. It indeed was there, and I doubt I’ll ever have that kind of bond again. You’re lucky to have that with your person.
Eastside Cats says
Summer, does your mom consider traveling to Chicago to be ‘another country’?!? LOL!
Brian Frum says
We totally understand how that would be so important sweet Summer!
Pat K says
A good lesson.
The Island Cats says
We’re glad you and your human have such a great bond, Summer.
Sandi Stefani says
Hoomin would love a therapy cat. Django was in training but decided he did not want pets. She is hopeful that Razzle-dazzle might be the one
Memories of Eric and Flynn says
I can see how important that bond has to be.
You and your human have that relationship down to a “T”………(for Therapy!)……..you know she will make sure you are safe as you do your therapy work and will never put you in danger. That allows you to relax and be the sweet visitor that you are for those who need a little “light” in their life!
Marjorie at The Dash Kitten Crew says
It is a very special part of the Therapy Cat training nad the most treasured part of your human I am guessing.
Catherine lingg says
I too, think the kitty has to be very special. Some kitties will never have that blind faith in their humans to that degree. I had one cat (after over 50 years of having kitties and being in rescues ) that coukd fit that bill. Catsonality plays a big role.
I think doing activities together – whether it’s trick training or agility games in the living room, or adventures, shows or whatever will grow that bond. And respecting your cat, even talking to them. They understand more than we give them credit for.
Lesley Castle says
You are very brave and your hooman is very protective and loving.
The kitties of purring pines says
You and your mommy certainly have a rock solid bond!