When you think of therapy animals, dogs visiting schools, libraries and airports probably come to mind. According to Pet Partners, one of the world’s largest registry of therapy pets, pups are the majority, but cats come in second.
Training a cat to help people cope with boredom, stress and other emotions takes time and energy, but when you mix that human dedication with a cat who loves attention, you’ve got a match made in heaven changing lives every day. Here are three people who do just that.
Keegan Taylor and Rom – Kansas City, Mo.
If you’re part of the LGBTQ community, sometimes you need a safe space and supportive environment. That’s what the Kansas City Center for Inclusion provides. But there’s another draw to the community resource: Keegan Taylor’s cat therapy team with Rom, his orange tabby. The professional groomer and his best furry friend regularly visit the center to provide support, especially to transgender youth who have faced trauma.
“Rom really helps when it comes to talking about difficult things,” Keegan says. “I bring him into the room and if I see someone who is sad or upset, I ask them if they would like to hold him. He then gets passed around from lap to lap, getting lots of pets.”
Rom is one of the only therapy cats in the country whose focus is on the LGBTQ community.
“The center touched my life,” says Keegan, of his personal connection. “The people there really helped me grow into the person I am today.”
The big, orange feline came into Keegan’s life as a stray on his doorstep in 2020. The cat was a mess, covered in fleas and ear mites. But as a professional groomer with animal behavior training, Keegan cleaned him up and realized he would make the perfect therapy cat.
“He just loves belly rubs and is mellow and adaptable,” he says. “He was perfect.” Knowing his furry friend’s special demeanor, the animal handler leash-trained the 4-year-old kitty, who is always on leash during his support group sessions. Before each visit, center staff notify all attendees that Rom will be in attendance, just in case anyone is allergic to cats. Many times, attendees attend those specific sessions because Rom will be there.
Keegan says that while his cat clearly enjoys the visits, he does, too.
“Every time I go, I feel a sense of satisfaction that I am helping my community,” he says. “I get to merge my passion for animals with my passion to help people who may be suffering. It’s an amazing experience for both of us.”
Follow Rom on Instagram @therapycatrom.
Dawn Wise and Reba – Alpharetta, Georgia
Reba, the all-black cat, had a rough life. Born into a hoarding situation, the tiny kitten had such a horrible upper respiratory infection that one of her eyes ruptured and had to be removed. On top of that, she then came down with ringworm, where she had to isolate for four months.
Dawn Wise’s daughter fostered Reba during that time, and much to the surprise of just about everyone, Reba emerged social and loving despite isolating during a time of key social development. After everything Reba went through, Dawn’s daughter asked her mom to adopt the rescue kitty. The Georgia multifamily real estate analyst couldn’t say no.
Reba was so social, Dawn knew she should spread her new kitty’s love of affection. First, she entered Reba in the Cat Fanciers’ Association and The International Cat Association’s local, regional and national cat shows. She ended up winning many awards in both organizations’ household pet categories. But Dawn wanted her cat to do more than just earn ribbons.
The black kitty took Pet Partners’ therapy test, passing with flying colors. With that certification, the friendly feline was able to go to Atlanta-area hospitals, schools, medical and government conferences. These visits are now a side-hustle passion for Dawn.
“I like doing it, because I love knowing my cat is helping other people,” she says. “I owe it to Reba to help her bring joy to other people through emotional connections.”
Follow Reba on Instagram @reba_the_one_eyed_showcat and on TikTok @reba_the_oneeyed_showcat.
Tracy Howell, Roger and Sal – Scottsdale, Arizona
What’s better than having one therapy cat? How about two?! Tracy Howell, an IT manager at Arizona State University, ended up with two felines who had personalities fit for therapy, so she jumped at the chance to help people in need.
Sal, an orange-and-white domestic shorthair kitty, just happened to show up on Tracy’s doorstep. When she saw his wonderful demeanor, she decided to keep him. It didn’t take long for the feline to begin leading ASU students on hikes and regularly visiting the campus library and fitness center.
“His leadership skills are so exceptional that everyone follows him,” Tracy says. “He loves hiking and has a sense of adventure. He can jump on the roof of my condo and then jump into surrounding trees. I once took him on vacation to California, and he was amazed by the ocean. He just sat staring at it for hours.”
Then there’s his brother, Roger, an all-gray domestic shorthair. He primarily does hospice work consoling people who are facing their last breaths, and giving sick kids hope at Phoenix-area children’s hospitals.
“He has an amazing ability to sit with people while they are dying, calming them in their last moments,” Tracy says.
During the pandemic, Roger even appeared on Zoom calls at his local public library’s “memory cafes,” to help keep people connected to one another during the time of mandatory seclusion.
While Tracy often takes her cats to schools, hospitals and corporate events, she also goes to these places alone. She volunteers at the hospitals by herself, escorting other therapy animal teams around to the various patients who need special visits. She also does her part to support the therapy community as a local evaluator for Pet Partners to help test other cats who could be therapy animals.
With a full-time job and pet therapy activities taking all her free time, the cat mom is living life to its fullest. She believes in giving back to her community through volunteering and providing her personal pets as a comfort to others, which gives her a sense of satisfaction and a life full of happy, feline-filled moments.
Follow Roger, Sal and Tracy on Instagram @therapycatroger and @therapycatsal, as well as on TikTok @therapycatroger.