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Main Content

Feline Affection

Therapy cat brings joy to hospice patients

By John Commins

Photography by Michael Buck

Sometimes the best medicine comes with four legs, whiskers, and a soothing purr.

Amy Hansen knew that her pet Cricket had the right stuff to be a therapy cat when she watched the 20-pound feline cuddle up with a woman in hospice care.

“There was a lady there who started reaching for the kitty and she started crying tears of joy,” Amy, of Greenville, Mich., recalls. “She had moved there six months earlier and had to give up her kitty. It meant so much to her to be able to see the kitty. I visited her weekly for as long as we could go because it meant so much to her.”

Cricket is the first and only registered therapy cat for Hospice of Michigan and Spectrum Health Hospice, says Amy, who volunteers Cricket’s services several times a month.

Amy adopted Cricket two years ago as a five-week-old feral kitten. She didn’t intend for him to become a therapy animal, where dogs typically dominate. When she half-jokingly suggested that Cricket could help fill a need for therapy animals, the staff at a local hospice “jumped on it and said that’d be awesome.”

“I didn’t even know that cats could be registered therapy pets,” she says. “I looked into it and sure enough cats and even rabbits can be registered animals, and cats are being groomed in that field that was once dominated by dogs.”

A brief training period with Amy’s family and neighbors ensured that Cricket had the right personality for the task.

“I asked one elderly neighbor in a wheelchair if we could practice with him,” she says. “He was thrilled to have Cricket visit. Right away I could see Cricket enjoyed it.”

After that, Cricket became a regular at area hospices by the time he was a year old.

Cricket enjoys the process and looks forward to his weekly cuddle-ups at area hospices and residential homes for the elderly, Amy says.

“He is always happy to get there. He will look out the car window and start meowing and get excited once he is there,” she says. “Nobody remembers my name. I’m just Cricket’s transportation. But everyone remembers Cricket.”

Tami Lieffers, life enrichment coordinator for Green Acres Retirement Living in Greenville, has seen Cricket in action and says he “gets it.”

“Sometimes a resident might want to put him on her shoulder or hold him like a baby and he just sort of takes it in stride,” she says. “We have one gentleman who had a stroke and he doesn’t speak much but when Cricket comes his face lights up and Cricket takes to him like you wouldn’t believe.”

“Cricket knows who the cat lovers are. Cricket will get up on their lap and calm down and cuddle up and fall asleep,” she adds.

Because of his small size, Cricket is easier to cuddle for some of the frailer residents.

Whether it’s a dog, a cat, or a rabbit, the appeal of these animals is obvious when you put yourself in the slippers of a person in hospice or residential care, Amy explains.

No matter how pleasant the surroundings and the people, there is the loneliness and fear of living away from everything you’ve known.

If only for a few minutes, these residents can set aside their worries and give their love and attention to these animals.

“People are thrilled to see and touch them,” Amy says. “Some people tell me they haven’t seen a cat in years and so they’re thrilled.”