Dogs have traditionally led the pack when it comes to helping humans, whether they be for companionship or guiding the blind. But more and more, other animals are putting their best paws and hooves forward. Pigs, ferrets and even llamas are among those in the animal kingdom getting attention as sources of help, especially in the animal-assisted therapy department.
But until recently, cats have been ignored, mostly due to their unpredictable temperament and difficulty in training. Still, feline supporters declare that cats are potentially a great benefit to their human owners, especially in helping them heal if they're sick or injured.
When it comes to assistance, in this case, cats are most qualified in animal-assisted therapy, much different than service animals, which are trained to help disabled people to carry on with their daily lives. Animal-assisted therapy has more to do with comforting people to help them either recover from a malady or cope with a medical issue.
This type of therapy is quickly catching on to the point where animals other than dogs are being considered, given that the availability of animals is quite often lower than the demand, according to Bellevue, Washington-based Pet Partners, the organization that deals with therapeutic animal assistance. Pet Partners has assembled a database consisting of more than 13,000 animals, mostly dogs, although the list includes at least 200 cats and even a few llamas.
Naturally, each species has to undergo their own special training to suit their physiology and psychological headspace. Cats in particular need to be able to endure a lot of hygienic and grooming procedures, be car-friendly, withstand a room full of strangers, and put up with a lot of hugs before they're considered for registration.
At the same time, hospitals, businesses and various public places interested in animal-assisted therapy program need to have their work environments ready for such an initiative. So far, a few have reported success, as is the case of felines that put their comforting prowess to work at Salt Lake City's Primary Children's Hospital and Denver International Airport. Other companies like Aetna have approved therapy animals into the workplace, citing such benefits as stress reduction and better moods among employees as motives.