Pets aren’t just loving and loyal companions. Cats and dogs boost health and healing, ease anxiety and stress, and help people cope with everything from autism to cancer to PTSD.
But the positive effects of “pet therapy” flow both ways. While pets provide people with comfort and love, people offer shelter pets family, shelter, and care. This need is especially high among orphaned kittens, who require bottle feeding and constant attention to survive their early days in the shelter without mom.
Foster parent Lori Irby discovered how much kittens and seniors help each other after she brought some foster kittens to her job at The Meridian, a California senior center. Although Irby brought the kittens to work because they needed bottle feeding every three hours, she quickly discovered her office was becoming the most popular spot in the building.
“I started getting a lot of residents who liked to come by and play with the kittens,” Irby told Daily Paws, recalling how residents crowded around the foster kittens’ playpen. “So I asked our activities director if she could put me on the calendar one day for kitten therapy.”
Now kitten therapy has become one of the Anaheim center’s most popular offerings, sometimes drawing as many as 100 residents in a single session. The weekly sessions are also a way for seniors to enjoy the benefits of pet ownership even if they don’t own an animal.
“It definitely brightens their mood,” Irby told the outlet. “A lot of times, residents will come down and do the kitten therapy because they can’t maintain their own pets. We encourage residents to have pets, but some of our residents have mobility issues or can’t clean the litter every day.”
Kitten therapy was especially beneficial during the early days of the pandemic, when the novel coronavirus left many senior homes barring visitors. Though necessary to limit the virus’ spread, the visitor ban further compounded residents’ loneliness and isolation. The foster kittens were especially comforting during this frightening time.
The Meridian’s cat-loving seniors are also helping crowded shelters by fostering animals to free up kennel space. Fostering is also crucial for orphaned kittens, who require bottle-feeding and personalized care. Both services are nearly impossible to provide in a busy shelter.
“The shelter is the last place that you want cats to be,” one ASPCA shelter director told Daily Paws. “From bottle feeding to socialization, there are so many things that these little kittens need that can’t be met in the shelter environment.”
Since becoming a foster parent in 2019, Irby estimates that she’s fostered–-with the help of her kitten therapy clients, of course–approximately 60 kittens and counting. “I like being able to save lives and helping to socialize them,” she said. “I take a lot of pride in my kitten care.”Whizzco