Strange-looking cats? Maybe.
Pam Moore concedes
that if someone is accustomed to long-haired cats, a Sphynx
can be off-putting at first. But after a Sphynx curls up in
the lap of one of her patients, Moore, a registered nurse at
J.W. Sommer Rehabilitation Unit in
Al, says the animal brings about a transformation in the
human. "They bring so much peace and happiness to the
patients," she says.
Sphynx cats love to
cuddle with people and are as soft as velvet. "They'll just
curl right up on a patient's lap and stay there," Moore
says. "That's not the training. That's just the way they
Only a few thousand
Sphynx cats exist in the USA. GP Skinzin
Bak-Jak-the-Knife, the first registered therapy Sphynx in
the country, belongs to Terry and Sharron True of Muscle
Terry True says
holding Jak is like holding "a suede hot-water bottle." When
the Trues first started working with their cats in animal
therapy, they visited oncology units in a children's
hospital where patients were undergoing chemotherapy and
radiation. "I wanted the children to know you can still be
hairless and be beautiful," Moore says. "The kids' eyes
would just light up when they'd see Jak."
PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL
JoAnn Turnbull of the
Delta Society, which has registered more than 10,000 animals
for therapy work, says the kind of connection Jak offers
cancer patients is unique. "People can relate to an animal
with the same condition and trust them and bond with them,"
Turnbull says. "It might also give them the extra motivation
to get better."
Research shows petting
an animal can decrease patient anxiety, lower blood pressure
and help ward off depression. There is also a soothing
calm the purr of a cat offers people. In their new
book, Guardians of Being, author
and illustrator Patrick McDonnell suggest that animals help
connect humans to the divine and make us whole again.
The Trues say they are
big believers in holistic medicine, treating the spirit as
well as the body. They know firsthand how difficult it is to
find peace in a hospital and how animals can heal in a way
they cannot as medical professionals. Sharron is a
registered nurse who works in the operating room at the
Muscle Shoals hospital. Her husband is a family
practitioner. "When they're in a hospital, they can't
see their own pets," Sharron says. "Research has shown
patients get many positive therapeutic benefits from the
Terry adds: "The
patients aren't just physically ill when they're in the
hospital, they're also suffering emotionally. One of
the best ways to alleviate that is to try to return some
sense of normalcy to their lives. If you show them
pets in the hospital, they're able to focus on returning to
their lives at home and a good outcome."
When Sharron read
about cat-assisted therapy several years ago in a Cat
Fanciers' Association magazine, she knew her cats were
perfect for the cause "because of how people-oriented they
are." The Trues now have three cats enrolled in
therapy work (two of them are Skinzin cats!), but Jak broke
the ice for them in a dog-dominated world.
"Jak had just retired
from shows, where he'd been very successful, and I told him
he had to get another job," she says, laughing.
The new job meant
Sharron had to take 12 classes with Jak sponsored by Delta
Society. The classes teach the owner and animals how to
approach patients and how to not be afraid of hospital
settings, smells and equipment. Jak was the only cat in his
class. There were 25 dogs.
"He wasn't afraid of
all those dogs," she says. "He just marched right into the
ring and got to work."