Back in 2011, Shawntel Myers read about a therapy dog in a book she bought at a The Cat House garage sale, and started to wonder if the same could be done with cats. She brought the idea to The Cat House, where she volunteered, who agreed for her to try cat therapy. The first visit was a success and this was the beginning of Cat Love Therapy, which celebrated its five-year-anniversary just over a year ago. I met with Shawntel recently to find out more about the program and her involvement with The Cat House.
ALLISON: What inspired you to become a volunteer at The Cat House?
SHAWNTEL: I wanted to find something to do outside of school/work, and volunteering was something I considered. My mom volunteered with The Cat House for a short period of time, which got me interested in joining the volunteer team. This was a perfect way for me to help out in the community and enjoy the company of cats at the same time.
ALLISON: What are your duties at TCH?
SHAWNTEL: My current duties are scheduling and organizing Cat Love Therapy visits. When I first started, I cleaned rooms.
SHAWNTEL: When I first started, I contacted places and asked the activity directors if they’d be interested in us visiting. Most visits in the past few years have been scheduled by people contacting The Cat House with an interest in us visiting them.
ALLISON: What kind of TCH cats have been good candidates?
SHAWNTEL: Finding cats that do well on therapy visits is a hit or miss. Over the past six years, I’ve learned a few things that let me know if a cat may do well on a visit or not. Cats with an easy-going temperament that enjoy being held and will tolerate a harness, tend to do best on visits. Before taking a cat, I’ll walk the cat around outside their room on a harness and leash to see how they do. If they do well in that scenario, it lets me know there’s a good chance they may do well on a pet therapy visit.
You don’t truly know though how well a cat will do until it goes on a visit. For example, we’ve taken cats you’d think would do well, but they don’t. Usually they end up being too scared, or don’t want to sit still even for a minute!
ALLISON: What are the most typical places therapy cats are taken? What are the most unusual places therapy cats have gone?
SHAWNTEL: The most typical places therapy cats have gone are Assisted Living and Rehabilitation/Care Centers. The most different place we’ve gone is to The Children’s Museum.
SHAWNTEL: On average we go on one to two visits a month, with each visit lasting about an hour. Most visits, residents will gather in a commons area. If resident wants to hold a cat, a volunteer will place a cat on their lap to hold and pet. People who don’t want to hold a cat usually would rather just pet or observe the cats interacting with others.
ALLISON: What are some of your memorable cat therapy moments?
SHAWNTEL: My most memorable moments are those in which people get super excited to see the cats. The expression of joy on their face as they interact is priceless. It’s great too when a cat really enjoys going on visits. We used to take a cat named Cuddles who loved sitting on laps. She would purr, knead the air, and occasionally even give kisses.
ALLISON: How many volunteers on average do you have?
SHAWNTEL: Usually there are anywhere from one to four volunteers per visit in addition to myself.
SHAWNTEL: It’s a great way to share cats with cat lovers who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to interact with them.
ALLISON: Why should someone volunteer with The Cat House?
SHAWNTEL: It’s a good way to provide care and support for these greats cats that are waiting to find a forever home.
ALLISON: Give a tip to prospective The Cat House volunteers.
SHAWNTEL: Generally when you start volunteering, you’ll do cleaning. Getting involved in other areas as well is also great! Fostering, TNR, fundraising, craft events, Cat Love Therapy, and helping out during open hours are a few examples of additional activities one could get involved with.
The Cat House provides a safe no-kill shelter and adoption facility for cats in the Lincoln, Nebraska area. There are many volunteer opportunities available, which you can find at its Volunteer page. To learn more about cat therapy, follow my adventures with Rainy this January as I attempt to get certified and/or join I-CAT.