Therapy Cat Series: Promoting the Need

This fall, with Rainy’s help, I began to promote therapy cats. My goal is to recruit additional cat therapy teams to bring comfort to hospice patients and seniors, and to educate the public about the benefits of therapy pets. On September 30, Rainy and I hosted a table for Love on a Leash at Christ United Methodist Church’s Blessing of the Animals event. To prepare for the event, I created an informational poster about therapy pets and requested handouts from the LOAL national office. Then, on November 1, Rainy accompanied me to my workplace where I met with a hospice coordinator.

Christ United Methodist Church holds a Blessing of the Animals “to remember and celebrate all of God’s creations, which includes animals,” said Jessica Estes, co-chair of Hospitality. “God loves animals as He loves humans.”

Over the 10 years in which CUMC has held this event, the organizers have enjoyed meeting all the animals that attend. There have been some unforgettable moments, such as when Pastor Richard blessed an anaconda snake from the Lincoln Zoo and when he was pooped on while blessing a lizard of one of the congregation’s youth.

In 2016, CUMC first began to invite animal welfare groups to host information tables. “We see animal welfare groups as an important ministry of caring for animals and so we want to promote their work,” Jessica said. In the three years that animal welfare groups have attended the event, the organizers have been “amazed” by what those groups have taught them.

This was the first time for Rainy and I to attend this event, my first time to host a cat therapy table, and my first time hosting a table on your own. As an introvert, I fear the unknown. At events where I have to interact with strangers, my nerves will either cause me to clam up or babble. Indeed, I almost bailed on this event. When my husband and I arrived at CUMC, I waited outside until I saw another animal welfare group spokesperson. Even then, I dragged Andy inside with me.

The 2018 Blessing of the Animals event lasted about two hours. Along with other animal welfare groups, I arrived early to set up my table. I did not bring Rainy with me because I did not want to overwhelm her. Instead, my faithful husband brought Rainy a few minutes before the start of the event.

I could see from her quivering body that she was as nervous as I was. Together we visited each of the other tables, where I explained what we did. A few of the spokespeople I already knew which helped put me at ease. As for Rainy, all she needed was some treats and attention, and she too was good to go.

The first hour of the event was for cats. It was pleasant to have a minister pray over Rainy. After this, Rainy and I headed to the photo booth, where a photographer took photos of her first in a hat and then a Hawaiian lei. After mingling with other cat owners, we returned to our table.

Although the rainy weather kept turnout low the auditorium became a hustle and bustle when dog owners arrived. In fact, there were so many dogs that I found myself apprehensive about how Rainy would handle herself. I called Andy to ask him to pick up Rainy. He encouraged me to stay; reminding me that one requirement for a therapy cat is the ability to remain calm around dogs. Indeed, my husband was right. Rainy wasn’t ever phased by the large number of dogs. Whether dog owners simply ambled about the auditorium or came over to our table to pick up information about pet therapy, Rainy sat calmly on top of my information table and watched the action with keen interest.

As the event began to wind down, Andy returned to pick us up. Rainy took home a certificate for attendance and I took home a complimentary jar of candy. Although CUMC faces the yearly challenges of promoting the event, coordinating it, and combating the weather, I commend them for a well-organized and fun time. Rainy and I are looking forward to attending future Blessing of the Animals!

In October, I received an email from a woman who wanted to add a cat therapy team to the list of volunteers at the small local hospice service where she is a volunteer coordinator. In my reply, I told her that Rainy and I already spend three days a week doing pet therapy, and so we would not have the time to volunteer with their hospice service. Even so, I agreed to meet with her. One reason is that I felt it would make for good public relations. Another is that I thought it was a good opportunity to spread the word about cat therapy. Finally, I thought maybe we could help one another. If the coordinator liked what she heard about cat therapy, perhaps the hospice service would help me promote the need for more teams, and ultimately we might both meet our goal to provide cat therapy to more seniors. The volunteer coordinator visited me at my workplace where Rainy had an adventurous time!

To help Rainy be comfortable in my office at the church where I work, I brought along her Sleepypod carrier, a snuggly blanket, treats, and a water dish. For much of the visit, she watched me answer phones and handle computer tasks. Every now and then, I tossed a treat her way. During her time at work with me, she met four people including the pastor of the church and my boss. All of her visitors said hello to her, held her, fed her treats, and let me photograph them with Rainy. Rainy made me proud with how well-behaved she was. She’s a great ambassador for cat therapy

The hospice volunteer coordinator also asked many questions about how Rainy and I became certified. The national Love on a Leash organization is our certifying agency. Our first step was to have a Control Evaluation form completed by our vet. Our second step was to undergo ten supervised visits at a facility. The third step was to fill out the LOAL application for cats. In addition to filling out the three-page form, I had to submit a headshot of Rainy for her photo ID. The certification process was relatively simple!

At this point, it was my turn to ask questions. The hospice volunteer coordinator works at a small local hospice. Besides filling out an application, volunteers must undergo a background check and receive a day of training. Once approved, volunteers will also receive support of additional elective in-services and socials. Although Rainy and I already have a full schedule, I agreed to add this particular hospice to our waiting list.

Of course, the ideal would be that I could contact another cat therapy team and ask them about their availability. Unfortunately, besides The Cat House’s Love Therapy program, Rainy and I are currently the only therapy cat team in Lincoln. This is why I am making it a priority to promote cat therapy. The need is out there, but so far the numbers are not. To my delight, the hospice volunteer coordinator offered that their marketing team could help promote the need too.

When my day at the church where I work ended, I treated Rainy by allowing her to roam my workplace. She enjoyed checking out all the sights and smells of the sanctuary and the downstairs education rooms. To my surprise, she had no interest in the Fellowship Hall. I thought she might be intrigued by the lingering smells of potlucks past. My guess is that there was too much light and spaciousness for Rainy’s comfort.

Since I began promoting cat therapy this fall, five cat owners have expressed an interest in doing cat therapy. All the promotion is working! If you’re interested in doing cat therapy or know anyone who might be, please contact me at: allisontalkspets@gmail.com

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