Animal Therapy

Single.  Middle-aged.  Knitter.  Archivist.  Cat mom.  Not completely crazy, yet, so I’m not going to totally own the crazy cat lady moniker.

But I do love my cat friends.  Animals have always played a large part in my life.  My “internet name” Scorchy is the name of the dog with whom I grew alongside until I was 10 years old.  I’ve always thought of animals as friends, and never felt I had the right to ever say that I “owned” one.   That sounds like slavery to me.

When I lived on my own I began sharing my life with felines.  They’re like potato chips, you can’t have just one.  First, there was Reggie–a regal white cat who I called Madame Queen for the entirety of her life.   Then came an orange tabby named Fred, who was named after Freddie Mercury.  He had some personality, that little guy (the cat and the man, actually).   And, just like the man, his life was too short; the result of a congenital lung disease.  Then the “Irish” sisters came: litter mates Molly and Megan. Cattius Caesar, a gorgeous tall orange man (named after Gaius Julius), joined the three girls as a kitten and caused a ruckus.  I swear Meggie (the leader) tried to kill him once, but things settled down once he grew into adulthood and was clearly 1/3 greater her size (but she was always in charge).  Reggie, in her advanced years, succumbed to kidney failure at age 19.  I lost Meggie to cancer two years ago this month (her picture is my Gravatar), and shortly thereafter three year old Pumpkin joined the family.  So these days it’s Molly (16), Caesar (9), Pumpkin (5), and me that make up the Pride.

The Pride. (L to R: Pumpkin, Caesar, Molly)

My little buddies have made me smile every day, even in the midst of the dark days of depression.  They kept me alive; for as much as those freaking brain chemicals would push me into an abyss where I didn’t care about anything, I did care about my friends.  So I continued to work, go to school, and make a living so that they would be healthy and happy.  In a very real sense, I would say that they saved my life.

And they’re about to save my life again.  For I will not die from this bloody cancer until all of my friends have gone to the bridge.  I refuse.  They need care, visits to the vet, food, litter (how many pounds of litter have I used over the years?), and love.  And because I trust no one to love them as much as I do, I refuse to leave this earth before they do.  Animals are chicken soup for my soul.  Indeed, it is no wonder that animal therapy plays such an important role in fighting disease.

Animal therapy can diminish the sense of loneliness that the elderly experience, calm Alzheimer’s patients, make sick children smile and giggle, and even lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  Cancer patients, of course, can also benefit from the company of animal friends, but compromised immune systems can be tricky and individuals can’t always tolerate the real thing.  That’s why there are robots.

Yep.  I read this really neat article about a UC Irvine study that showed very good results with a robot modeled on a harp seal named Paro.   The idea behind the little device is that it improves the quality of life of those struggling with disease (ovarian cancer and Alzheimer’s are specifically mentioned in the article).  Specifically for cancer patients, it improves the quality of life by boosting the immune system and, in turn, helping patients better fight the cancer.  It’s an awesome idea and t would be hard to argue against it.   At the very least it helps an individual take their focus off their disease for a short time or helps them to cope with a treatment.

The American Humane Association facilitates the use of animal therapy to help children who have experienced abuse, to manage stress while parents are deployed in the military, and to help returning soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder.  AHA is partnering with big pharma giant Pfizer to launch a controlled study of animal therapy.  But they’ll spend thousands to find out empirically what we all know subjectively: animals improve the human quality of life.

Another organization doesn’t utilize animal therapy as its focus, but to draw attention to their service is Critters for the Cure.  They provide a real service to under-served and under-insured women in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia to help meet financial obligations, to reenter the workforce, to help take care of pets while they’re sick, and other support services. Though I don’t quite understand how the use of either “critters” or “cure”  really connects with their mission, what they do is pretty darned great.  The Washington Post published a neat piece on their efforts with stories from women who have benefited from their services and talk about the joy that their animal friends have brought to their lives while they face cancer.

This is why for me, even when I  move into chemotherapy and my immune system is compromised, my fur bearing appetites will be right by my side.   They will share the couch, jump on the counters, unroll the bathroom tissue, hurl on the floor, use the litter box, demand their meals, monopolize my lap, and compete for bed space the whole of their lives and I will enjoy every single second of their company and their sweet souls.  They bring more joy to my life than anything I can even imagine.  We need one another.

And my love for them will keep me alive.



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3 Responses to Animal Therapy

  1. We call it ‘fur therapy’ here when the cats just know that someone in the family needs a bit of extra love. 10 years ago, we only had one and when I was going through BC, she never left my side. Slept on me, her purring reverberating through my soul. I think she helped heal me with her presence. Now we have 2, the original 16 yr old and a spunky almost 5 who keeps us on our toes!

  2. anomar13 says:

    Yes, they will help keep you alive. I have a husband, and three grown children, but I know they will all survive without me. My kitty friends, I’m not so sure. I have found that cats choose their best friends. One of our cats (we have four), loves my husband the most. He would be terribly lost without him. One loves my youngest daughter (who still lives at home), and the other two have always attached themselves to me. I can’t imagine how an animal must feel when they lose their favorite human. So, in light of that, I am sure I will not have a recurrence that kills me for at least another eight years. All of our other kitties lived to around 20, and I figure these guys will too. So, I have no choice but to be here for them. By the way your kitty, (bottom right, Molly?) looks just like by baby, Patch. Furthermore, the science of the immune system would show that if you have been around these guys for as long as you have, you have already developed titers (immune memory cells), to most anything they will expose you to. Don’t let the docs scare you about that.

    Best wishes,
    Ramona, Snug, Crystal, Patch, and Caspar

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