News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Therapy animals are more than just dogs

Most people think of dogs when turning their attention to therapy animals, but other domestic creatures are also used. Cats, horses, ‘smallies’ such as rabbits or guinea pigs, reptiles, and birds have all been used successfully.

People with illnesses such as MS, Alzheimer’s, and autism, plus conditions such as PTSD, have all benefited from animal therapy.

I grew up surrounded by dogs as my mother bred corgis. She was an avid dog show exhibitor and international judge. Over the years, I became aware of the good that could result from a dog’s closeness. Yes, companionship, but so much more.

Since then, I have had dogs of virtually all shapes and sizes, from a small Jack Russell Terrier, to a large Welsh Sheepdog. All have been friendly and loving – with the amazing ability to make you feel better when you are down.

These days, Lisa and I have cats as pets.

Therapy animals’ meaningful bond

therapy animals

Brothers and Pet Partners’ co-founders Michael and Bill McCulloch (Pic: Pet Partners).

Pet Partners co-founder Michael J McCulloch, MD, says, “We believe that the human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial relationship that improves the physical, social, and emotional lives of those we serve. We are motivated by connection, compassion, and a commitment to sharing this meaningful bond with everyone who can benefit from time spent with an animal.

“In an age of research when it is tempting to reduce emotions to biochemical reactions and to rely heavily on the technology of medicine, it is refreshing to find that a person’s health and well-being may be improved by prescribing contact with other living things.”

Cats are used for therapy, particularly for anyone who is afraid of dogs. The problem with cats as therapy animals is that they have a significant independent streak and cannot really be trained. At least, not easily.

You may see them at large in nursing homes and the like as they move from room to room, visiting the patients, and sometimes snuggling up to be petted or curling up for a nap. In one well-known case, a Maine Coon cat helped a girl with autism to speak once more.

Pooka – our live-in therapy

therapy animals

Our beloved, gentle, Maine Coon. Pooka, April 1998 – October 2017. Sadly missed.

Actually, talking of Maine Coons is difficult at the moment because our Pooka has just died. Lisa gave her a home when the kitten was six months old and she lived a long and happy life. Pooka was an ‘old lady’ of 19½ when she died.

Pooka was born in Florida, USA’s ‘Sunshine State’, in spring 1998, and moved to the less than sunny UK in 2012. She moved again, this time to live in the sun of southern Spain, in late 2015. In all that time, she was good natured, loving, and a pleasure to have as a companion. She died in her sleep with us nearby. Lisa and I both miss her.

She is survived by Prissy, a fellow Floridian, who is now 11 years old. But their characters are very different. Where Pooka was almost always slow, Prissy is more active. She even occasionally catches prey, much to our disgust. But she is equally as good natured and loves to sleep on our bed.

Proven health benefits of therapy animals

Wide Open Pets says: “We know how our pets help us get through life. Whether trained or not, owning and caring for pets provides a certain amount of therapy and proven health benefits.

“Most therapy animals are used for similar reasons. In hospitals they provide comfort, cheer, and companionship. Service animals take specific and necessary actions in the event of a medical emergency, or in counseling to provide comfort and relaxation.

“Animals can help children with learning disabilities as well as with anger management, mental health, and behavioral difficulties. There are even programs in place that use dogs to help children learn how to read.

“Animals are also commonly used in physical therapy to help with fine motor skills. Actions such as brushing, fastening a collar, and walking are where pet therapy can help,” it says.

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* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.


Sleepy cats’ all-night excursions make us worry

lion Prissy 51215 Pooka 51215  They all sleep a lot:a male lion, Prissy and Pooka.

Just the other day, I read that male lions sleep for 20 hours per day – and pet cats have a similar sleep pattern but nap a little less. It seems that cats sleep twice as much as we do, so sleeping for a long time is a normal part of their day.

In fact, adult domestic cats tend to sleep between 14 to 16 hours a day with kittens and elderly ones sleeping as much as 18 or even 20 hours.

Our two, Pooka and Prissy, are proof of that with Prissy interspersing her regular expeditions with long periods of sleep. Meanwhile, Pooka is 17¾ years old and sleeps even longer.

That being the case, Lisa and I were both concerned when, three nights ago, Prissy went out for much longer than usual for her, some 10 hours and at night. We looked around but could find no trace of her. She returned via the cat flap in time for breakfast. After that, she slept virtually all day.

Then, last night, it was Pooka’s turn. She rarely goes out for more than an hour at a time, often only minutes, but this time she was missing for about eight hours, again at night. Like Prissy, Pooka was nowhere in sight and we became worried when she did not appear when we called but that could have been her not hearing us. Like humans, cats’ faculties do deteriorate with age.

Early this morning, though, Pooka arrived home, had breakfast and promptly curled upon the sofa. And, as I type this, that is exactly where she still is – absolutely oblivious to the world but none the worse for her night-time adventure.

Fascinated by their behaviour, I looked into how cats spend their days and found this information on a website called Petful:

Why Are They Always Sleeping?

Your cat’s favorite pastime is not plotting his next attack on the bird. Cats nap constantly and are exceptionally good at it.

In the wild, cats must hunt for their food. Regardless of whether it’s a Bengal tiger or a feral kitty, he must find a way to get food. This takes a lot of time and energy. Often, prey escapes the grasp of their claws and teeth. Sleeping conserves energy so that the cat can chase down their dinner whenever dinner makes itself available.

OK, so a house cat doesn’t hunt for meals — he gets them delivered in a pretty bowl from a can or a bag. However, the natural need to doze off and save energy will always be there.

Despite our two cats both enjoying night-time excursions, the website says that the popular belief that cats are nocturnal is a myth. It says:

Many people believe their kittens are nocturnal and are awake and active all through the night. This is not true. Cats are crepuscular animals. This means they are most active at sunrise and sundown — the easiest times for cats to find and catch their meals. This dominates the sleep patterns of all cats, feral and domesticated alike. Genetic behaviour doesn’t change.

So, now we know.

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Sometimes it pays to be a problem solver

cat tree cat tree sofa

Today Lisa has been putting her construction and puzzle solving skills to good use. She has successfully built what is described as a cat tree. This is a combination of a massive cat entertainment centre and scratching post.

cat tree hammockWe wanted something for the two cats to scratch and also keep them amused and this cat tree certainly seems to fit the bill.

Within an extremely short while of Lisa finishing her assembly work, Priscilla (who we call Prissy) roused herself from sleeping on the sofa and ambled over to take a closer look. In fact, she settled down into the tree’s hammock and promptly curled up in it.

cat tree topTwo days ago, we were treated to another feline success. We have a cat flap to allow our two girls to come and go as they please, something that Prissy got used to doing very quickly. Pooka, on the other hand was more reluctant to try it but perhaps That is not so surprising, given her age. She is, in fact, 17½ years old. We kept showing her the cat flap, from both inside and out but to no avail.

Then, on Sunday evening, we saw she was outside and neither of us had opened a door. That first time, Pooka sat by the door to be let back in but Lisa went outside to encourage her to come back in trough the flap. Since then, there has been no holding her.

Both our babies are going out and coming back in whenever they want to; they have total freedom to enjoy the Spanish weather however they please. Whether we are at home or not makes absolutely no difference.

The girls were both born in Florida, so they are used to the sunshine we get here. Pooka got so fed up with the cold and rain in Wales that she gave up going outside. She stayed resolutely in our a apartment. Even when we did get the occasional sunny day, she refused  to go outside as it was too cold for her. Here, though, she does not have that problem as even December daytime temperatures are higher than the average summer ones in Colwyn Bay.

Aside from our cats, deliveries continue to arrive daily, sometimes more than one a day via different courier companies. The absolute best was just the other day when I responded to the doorbell to find two delivery vans outside. They were virtually nose to nose having arrived from different directions but at the same time.

Each delivery that we receive means that we are ever closer to getting our home just as we want it. It really should not be long now although some items are not due to arrive until the New Year.

For now, though, our thoughts are turning towards the festive season and all the Yuletide brings. Our first such celebration in our new home in southern Spain is one which we are both anticipating with much fun and one that we really intend to enjoy.


Pics: Top – The cat tree that Lisa spent so long putting together. Our two cats show how interested they were.

Middle: Prissy settles into the cat tree hammock.

Bottom: Up on top, Prissy decides it’s time for a wash.

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A tail of two cats!

Pooka in the sun on her 'day bed', our bed.

Pooka in the sun on her ‘day bed’, our bed.  

Prissy comes indoors for added comfort.

Prissy comes indoors for added comfort.

Our two cats have settled as well into Spain as they did into the UK when they arrived from Florida, America’s ‘Sunshine State’ where both of them were born.

Having originally lived with Lisa and her family in the USA, they flew across the Atlantic with British Airways in 2012 to join Lisa and I in our first home in Wales. At that time, we were amazed that, after such a long journey, they simply had a good sniff around and then curled up contentedly on our bed.

Then, we moved to another apartment in the same town and they followed the same procedure.

Ok, this time their journey was shorter in miles but, because they travelled overland, it took longer than their previous expedition. In 2012, they left Lisa on Tuesday morning (afternoon, UK time) and arrived in North Wales on Thursday afternoon; total travel time about 48 hours. This time, we said goodbye on Saturday morning and welcomed them in Spain in the early hours of Tuesday morning; total travel time about 64 hours.

From North Wales they travelled by van to Kent, where they stayed on Saturday night. The next day they were driven, via the Channel Tunnel, deep into France, where they stayed Sunday night. On Monday, they crossed the Pyrenees into Spain, finally arriving at about 1.30am on Tuesday. At that time we were in temporary accommodation because work on our proper home was still not completed. It was another week before we moved in.

However, despite the upheaval that they both had to go through, once we were able to move into

our new home it was delightful to see that both Pooka, now an ‘old lady’ at the age of 17½, and Prissy, a comparative youngster at 9½, acted in exactly the same way.

Assured that we are both with them, they explored their new surroundings as they investigated each room before curling up to go to sleep. They felt comfortable in their new surroundings – and so they should as our new property is more than twice the size of our old place in Wales.

Two days later, we unlocked the cat flap and introduced Prissy to it. Having used one back in Florida, she took to it straight away. She loves her new found freedom that she did not have in the UK, she goes out and comes in whenever she wants to do so. She enjoys the sunshine outdoors but is happy to come indoors for the extra comfort of an armchair or bed.

Pooka has also been shown the cat flap but prefers to use a door on the rare occasion that she ventures outside. Lisa and I both agree, though, that Pooka will go out more once spring comes and we get some furniture for the decking. Once, we are outside, we are absolutely sure that Pooka will want to join us and will renew her acquaintance with the cat flap that is just lie the one she used to use in Florida.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

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A lot done but new priorities appear

Today is our first full day in our new home. Much to do today, including finishing the remainder of the unpacking and finding the right places to put everything away, trying to arrange a firm date and time to collect our car and making some cash transfers.

When I say ‘finishing the remainder of the unpacking’ that is not quite true, lol. That is because, during our shopping trip for essentials on Monday night, we managed to forget hangers. So that means that we cannot yet put away clothes that need to be hung up. Naturally, getting hangers is now another priority.

In the period of transition from North Wales to the south of Spain, something really does nees to be said about the other two members of our family, our cats Pooka and Prissy. They are aged 17 and 9 years, respectively, and must be two of the most laid back cats around.

Let’s take a look at what they’ve been through in recent weeks. October 26 arrived in usual cattery, November 13 reunited with us but not taken home but to a hotel, November 14 picked up by pet courier company and taken to Kent, November 15 taken by van through Channel Tunnel and driven through France where they stayed one night, November 16 driven into Spain and were reunited with us at 2am on November 17.

Of course, they then had to stay with us in our temporary accommodation for a week until we could move in yesterday. They must have been so confused. Now they are getting used to where they live before we allow them outside in two or three days’ time. Already they have been looking out of the windows at the sunshine they have not really seen since they left Florida in 2012.


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