My human is an editor on the Facebook Therapy Cats page, so she sees a lot of the messages that come in from followers. Most commonly, people want to know where they can buy a therapy cat. Usually they have a child with emotional or mental issues, or they have these problems themselves. They think that getting a therapy cat will help.
The thing is, these people actually aren’t looking for a therapy cat. They want a comfort, or emotional support animal. They just don’t know the difference.
A therapy cat is the pet of a volunteer for a group or organization. The cat and her owner visit hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and other facilities as a team. The therapy cat is an especially friendly, well-socialized animal who has received special training and certification to be able to visit these facilities. When the cat isn’t doing visits, she is just a regular, everyday pet. That’s me!
Emotional support animals don’t have to visit patients in hospitals, or be friendly with everyone. They just need to have a special bond with one person — the person with the mental or emotional issues who needs her. Cats are actually well suited for the role of emotional support animal, because we are sensitive and in tune with those we’re closest to. And we’re cuddly!
I will be honest — I make a way better therapy cat than I would an emotional support animal. I am great at offering purrs and comfort to cheer up strangers. At home, although my human and I are bonded and we’re great pals, I’m not that good at offering comfort to her. I actually leave that job to Binga. I’d rather hang out and do tricks and play!
So does that mean you can’t buy an emotional support cat? Oh yes, you absolutely can! And they are not that expensive. In fact, they only cost as much as your local shelter’s adoption fee. Because some of the best emotional support cats (and therapy cats, for that matter) come from shelters and rescues.
Here are some tips, if you are looking for a cat as an emotional support animal:
- Look at the adult cats. Kittens are high maintenance, and require extra care and attention. Plus their personalities aren’t established, so you don’t know for sure if she will grow up into a good emotional support cat. Look at Binga – when she was a kitten, you would have thought she’d be terrible at it! She was crazy and bouncing off the walls and, frankly, pretty annoying. Who knew she’d be the best one out of all us for offering comfort? And the reverse could be true — that calm kitten you meet may grow up to be aloof and not particularly friendly.
So check out the grown up cats, preferably those who are past the overly playful stage. You’ll be able to judge their personalities better.
- If you are looking for an emotional support cat for a child, check out the cats first, without your kid along. It’s important that you filter out the cats that wouldn’t be good prospects before your child comes along and falls in love with a cat that’s not appropriate.
- Look for a connection. If you are searching for an emotional support animal yourself, choose the cat that comes up to you easily to make friends. Ideally, she should be a love bug, who is cozy and cuddly, or a cat with qualities that suit your own personality and lifestyle. It’s even better if you feel like you’ve met her before. If you are looking for a cat for a child, ask the workers or volunteers at the shelter which ones are best with kids, and choose from those. Once you have picked several cats you think would work for your kid, bring him down and let him make his own choice from those cats.
- If you are wondering if breed cats can be emotional support animals, the answer is yes, but you are just as well off (or maybe even better off) going to a shelter. Certain breeds are better at this than others — think ragdolls and Scottish folds, for example. But if your heart is set on a breed cat, be careful to screen the breeder carefully. A badly bred cat can come with a variety of health issues and it’s important for your emotional support cat to have a good constitution. Health issues will only cause the both of you a lot of added stress.
- All cats, even emotional support cats, need time to adjust to their surroundings. It’s rare for a cat to come home and instantly be comfortable. So be patient with your new family member and give her time to adjust to everyone. She may even hide for a day or two, and that’s okay. Don’t push her into offering comfort immediately. Let her get to know you and your family on her own terms and she will naturally fall into a routine with you.
- Did I mention that your emotional support cat is a family member? I did, didn’t I? Because that’s exactly what she is, so treat her like that. The more you welcome your cat into your daily life, the more you give her love and care, the more she will give back in return.
Does an emotional support cat have more rights than other pets? Not really. If you can get a letter from your therapist prescribing an emotional support animal, you will be able to fly with her in the cabin of a commercial airplane without having to pay an extra fee. You will also be able to live with her in certain apartments that don’t normally allow pets (you will probably have to fill out a lot of paperwork, though). But other than that, your emotional support cat is just like any other pet, only better because she’s your very special pal, and will understand you when most humans can’t.
If you are looking for a cat to help you emotionally or mentally, I wish you lots of luck! I know there’s a kitty out there who is perfect for you.