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Celebrating National Therapy Animal Day

April 30th is designated as National Therapy Animal Day.

Picture the valuable services that therapy animals perform across a broad spectrum of activities, ranging from helping children testifying in court to providing stress relief to weary travelers in many major airports. Imagine how much this celebrates the human-animal bond.

What is a therapy animal, exactly? Therapy animals are not “service animals”, who are trained to perform very specific tasks for one person. Therapy animals instead provide comfort, companionship, and support to many people in many different situations. Like service animals though, therapy animals and their handlers are required to undergo training, evaluation, and certification which must be renewed on a regular basis. There are several groups around the world that offer training and certification for therapy animal teams, and there are also many regional and community groups as well.

It’s a good bet you pictured a therapy dog, right?

Now consider this; what if you’re a cat person? Therapy cat teams make up only 6% of all certified animal therapy teams.

Meet Baxter. Baxter is a therapy cat. He and his “mom,” Terri, are volunteers with a group called Love on a Leash. Baxter and Terri primarily visit nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The patients range from memory care to assisted living residents and with very few exceptions, Baxter’s visits are always welcomed and appreciated. His most important skill? Simply being there and letting the residents pet him.

Baxter, who was named in honor of sci-fi author Stephen Baxter, is Terri’s 3rd therapy cat. With her first therapy cat, she noticed that one of her cats seemed to have the right personality for therapy work; calm, social, patient, affectionate, and happy to be petted for long periods of time. After a period of training and evaluation, her cat was the first certified therapy cat in the state of Connecticut.

As a cat person, it’s difficult to imagine a situation where there are no cats. Baxter and Terri provide a much-needed service to people who are in situations where they can’t have their own cats. Baxter has some tricks, high-five and nose boops just to name a few, but mostly he provides the priceless gift of interaction with a cat. Baxter’s Facebook page is filled with stories about their visits and it’s obvious that Baxter brings a huge bright spot to many people’s lives.

If you want to know more about therapy cats, or if you think your cat might be a good candidate, consider visiting Love on a Leash or Pet Partners to learn more. Or visit the I-CAT (International Cat assisted Therapy) Facebook page or check with your local humane society or shelter to see if there is a group in your area. The International Cat Association (TICA) partners with Pet Partners and provides therapy titles for cats based on the number of approved therapy visits. These titles are NOT exclusive to pedigreed cats only.

 

The bottom line- we need more therapy cat teams!

On National Therapy Animal Day, we celebrate the human-animal bond by honoring all of the amazing animals and their handlers who volunteer their time to share the healing power of animals to people in need. ~VR