During my therapy cat rounds, and sometimes when I’m not doing them, my human gets asked a lot of questions about therapy cats. People want to know what we do, how I became one, how I qualified, and more! So I thought this would be a good time to answer some of these questions. I hope you find my answers interesting, and that you learn a little bit more about what I do!
Is Summer your pet?
Yes, lots of people ask my human if I belong to her! It is actually one of my most commonly asked questions. And yes, 99% of the time, the therapy animal — cat, dog, rabbit, or other pet — belongs to the person who is accompanying it. The other 1% is when a volunteer has more than one therapy pet. Then they’ll need someone to handle the second one.
Since a successful therapy pet team relies a lot on the ability of the animal to trust the handler, it makes sense that that person would be the owner. It’s doubly important for cats, who aren’t as accustomed to being in public spaces.
Is she your emotional support animal?
That’s a question that gets asked because people often confuse emotional support animals with therapy animals. My human has developed an easy way to explain the difference: Therapy pets offer comfort to other people, while emotional support animals are there solely for the comfort of the owner.
That doesn’t mean that therapy cats can’t also be emotional support animals. Many are! Just not me. I so strongly rely on my human when we’re out that when she shows weakness, it upsets me and makes me nervous. So she saves any emotional outbursts for when we are at home. When she is out with me, she stays cool for my benefit. It’s a skill she’s developed.
Did she have to be trained to be a therapy cat?
While there is no formal therapy cat training, it’s important to develop and build on the social skills the cat already has. Every cat that has become a therapy cat shows exceptional friendliness towards humans, but it’s a quality that can deteriorate without practice and regular exposure to strangers.
Every therapy cat has his or her own path to doing this work. Often, their owner will take the cat out to stores and to friend’s homes. Since I’m pedigreed, my path involved competing in cat shows, where I met and was handled by many, many different people over the course of many weekends. Actually, any housecat can compete in these shows, since there is a Household Pet category, but not many people know that. Shows also involve entry fees, and investing in show enclosures and often travel, so it’s not always available to everyone.
Did she have to pass a test to be a therapy cat?
You bet I did! Passing the evaluation is important. It’s one thing for someone to say their cat can do therapy work and another thing altogether to show she can in front of a group of people she doesn’t know. There are two organizations, Pet Partners and Love on a Leash, that evaluate pets for therapy work. There are also local therapy pet organizations that do it, and usually these evaluations are based on those by the national organizations.
If you are wondering why evaluation is so important, and why you can’t just walk into a nursing home with a friendly cat, there’s a very good reason: the insurance. Because the volunteer is taking the cat to a public setting and the cat is interacting with people, the volunteer could be liable for anything bad that may happen. Passing an evaluation from an organization gives the volunteer access to their insurance, and protects them and their animal.
Do you get paid for working with a therapy cat?
Ha, no. It’s volunteer work. And it’s very gratifying volunteer work for those who do it. My human can attest to that. The organization we belong to is a nonprofit that exists on donations, from a combination of the facilities we visit, corporate donors, and individuals who give.
And guess what? It’s Giving Tuesday, so if you would like to make a donation to our group, Love on 4 Paws, you can do so right here.
I hope this answered some of your questions about my therapy cat work! If you want to know anything else, let me know in the comments.
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