Do you think your cat would make a good therapy cat? Though the different AAT registering organizations vary on their criteria, here are some general guidelines to consider:
Where to Start
Cats must be at least a year old, have current vaccinations, be pest-free, and clean.
You need a dependable, confident, social, and predictable cat. While cats can be trained to do certain behaviors and be leash/ stroller trained, their temperament cannot. If you have a fearful or aggressive cat, s/he may not be a good candidate. Remember that this work must be enjoyable to your cat, and you are your cat’s advocate. If your cat loves people, is friendly to everyone, and doesn’t get easily startled, s/he may be a good candidate.
Consider what kind of facility you would like to work with: a nursing/ retirement community? Hospital? Library? Do they have a pet therapy or pet visitation program already that is open to having cats?
If facilities have never had a therapy cat, you may face questions. Some options include finding others in your area such as veterinarians, humane societies, pet sitters, and other animal advocates who may know someone in a facility who would be open to the idea. Talk to people in your area who work with therapy dogs and see if you can get connected with facilities that way.
As you are thinking about what kind of facility you would like to visit, also consider what kind of therapy registration will work best for you. Some facilities do not require the pet to be registered with an organization, though it’s a good idea to check with your personal insurance to see if you would be covered in case your cat does hurt someone. Some facilities do requires that your pet be registered due to insurance coverage that registration provides.
Find an Organization
If your facility of interest requires registration, research which organization with which you want to register, as there are specific requirements and fees for each and varying levels of support depending on where you live. In addition, once you join these programs, these organizations provide insurance for liability insurance. See the therapy organizations listed under Links.
Training Your Cat
As you decide on which registration policies you will follow, now is the time to bond with/ train your cat to be able to pass the requirements. Much of the assessment will focus not only on your cat being able to react/ not react to stimuli in a situation or the unexpected but also will focus on you as the handler being able to reassure/ handle your cat and keep him/ her safe.
Training should be a positive experience and one that strengthens the bond you have with your cat. Click on Resources for more information.
Other Things to Consider
While therapy cats give so much to others, our priority in our role as handlers is our cats. It is important that you are in tune with your cat’s needs: what are his/her likes and dislikes? When is s/he tired, hungry, thirsty, ready for a break? There may be some visits when s/he is able to go for hours, others when half an hour is enough. We find that many of our cats love their work and get excited when it is time for their AAT visit.
Like any volunteer position, there will be great, rewarding days, and other days when nothing seems to be going well. This is to be expected and this website and community is here to help answer questions or concerns! Click Resources for help and info!