Cat rescue group, Love Kuching Project, have an ongoing cat therapy programme at Thye Hua Kwan Hospital.
The idea of cat therapy is not new — Singapore has a certified therapy cat, Flash, and animal-assisted therapy has been here for 10 years now — but feline therapy remains relatively unheard of in Singapore
Though cuteness is not the cure for disease, it has been beneficial. It enables patients to interact with something else outside of their own usual environment, which allows them to be more sociable, positive and outgoing.
Benefits for patients
Cat therapy is known to lower blood pressure, reduce risks of heart attack, and uplift mood.
At a cat therapy session in the hospital, patients took turns to interact with cats.
The patients were generally welcoming to the cats as they seemed delighted to touch them. Some of them engaged in conversations with the nurses and passers-by who drop by to coo at the kitties.
The open setup lets a lot of people interact with the cats, explains Jess Ong, one of Love Kuching’s Outreach Volunteers.
“Some just want to take pictures and observe, some want to pet or play with the cats using toys or groom them, and the rare few will want to let the cats sit on their lap,” Ong said. “The big group allows them to socialise and just chat with other patients or with the volunteers.”
A patient brushes Coco, one of the therapy cats
Cats at therapy
There were six cats at the session: Two cuddly Maine Coons, Lion and Mac, and four other cats — Coco, Cleo, Kieran and Gatsby.
Maine Coons are the world’s largest breeds of cat, but despite their size, Lion and Mac were rather tame and friendly.
The cats’ owner explained that the cats were former show cats and were being touched, making them well-suited to the role of therapy cats.
Zzz… Cleo tries not to fall asleep. Coco and Cleo are owned by one of Thye Hua Kwan’s employees.
Gatsby, one of Camellia Ashley’s cats. Camellia Ashley is one of Love Kuching’s Outreach Volunteers. Kieran (not in picture), one of Love Kuching’s cats, was also at the cat therapy session.
Cats are temperamental, require careful handling
However, for all its benefits, cat therapy is far from perfect.
One of the difficulties of conducting cat therapy is handling stressed cats.
During the session, Kieran became a little agitated but the stress was relieved through the use of calming supplements.
Fans! Lion enjoys the breeze from a portable fan
The weather is another difficulty the cats have to deal with.
“(There) was one session when it started to drizzle mid-way, and one where it was so unbearably hot for the cats,” said Ong.
“I would say hot weather is probably the worst thing that can happen, especially for the kitties,” she added.
Despite the difficulties, cat therapy has been rather rewarding for the volunteers.
On what she loves about cat therapy, Camellia Ashley said: “(The old folks) get really enthusiastic and happy… (they get) excited when they see cats.”