A Greenville woman is using her cat to bring comfort to those facing the end of life.
Amy Hansen, of Greenville, recently brought her therapy cat, Cricket, to a local nursing home. She was immediately greeted by a resident who was excited to pet Cricket and share stories of her own cats. The woman told Hansen about the habits her cats had, the color of their fur, and other details, all while petting and snuggling Cricket. When the resident finally walked away, the facility director told Hansen that was the first time the woman had spoken in weeks.
The health benefit of therapy pets includes boosting ones immune system, decreasing feelings of anxiety, and increasing verbal and non-verbal communication. Knowing this, Hospice of Michigan seeks out therapy pet volunteers to help provide comfort and companionship to patients.
Hansen, who has volunteered with HOM for more than a year, is well versed in therapy pets. Several years ago, when her grandmother was living in an assisted living facility, Hansen trained two of her dogs to be therapy pets so they could visit with her grandmother.
“I immediately noticed the joy my pets brought to my grandmother and the other residents,” Hansen explained. “Things can become very routine in a nursing home or assisted living facility and when a therapy pet visits, breaking up that routine, the residents and staff really respond.”
When Hansen attended an HOM volunteer meeting last year and learned there was a need for therapy animals, she knew she wanted to help. Hansen knew that training a dog for a therapy pet would be a big undertaking and she wondered if she could train her cat. After some research, Hansen found Love on a Leash®, which provides certification procedures for therapy pets, including not only dogs, but also cats and rabbits, who have shown that they have the proper temperament to work with people.
Hansen immediately began the certification process, which involved having a veterinarian verify that Cricket was up-to-date on vaccines, was house trained, could travel in a car, wear a harness and had a good temperament with people. After a few supervised visits at a local nursing home, Cricket was certified and became a registered pet therapy animal.
“People typically don’t think of cats as pet therapy animals,” Hansen explained. But once I started looking into it, I realized this has become very popular and is happening all over the world.””
Cricket has one-on-one visits with hospice patients in facilities and private homes. He also makes a weekly community visit to a local assisted living facility. Hansen and Cricket regularly travel beyond Greenville, making stops in Howard City, Lakeview, Rockford and Grand Rapids.
As a HOM volunteer, Hansen has gone through HOM training courses that help her know how to talk with patients and make them feel comfortable, something that can be challenging. Hansen notes that Cricket has made this process easier for her and the patients she visits with.
“There can be a lot of sadness and stress in hospice care, not just for the patient, but for the family and facility staff,” said Hansen. “Cricket can help relieve that stress and bring out feelings of happiness, which allows patients to open up to me and start a conversation. With Cricket’s help, I get a lot of stories and smiles.”
If you would like to learn more about Hospice of Michigan, call 1-888-247-5701or visit www.hom.org.