Researchers have found that interaction with pets can lower blood pressure as much as some medications. Therapy animals have also been shown to reduce anxiety, improve cardiovascular health and reduce psychological stress.
Animals have worked alongside people for centuries whether or not they’ve been in the health care industry. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, some dolphins and sea lions work for the U.S. military. The African giant pouched rat works as a land mine detector. Miniature horses are gaining popularity as guide animals. Oreo, a previously stray cat, oversees residents at St. Augustine Health Ministries, a nursing home in Cleveland, Ohio.
Oreo had lived outside of the facility for years. Residents were familiar with her. Visitors recognized her. She was like that nosy neighbor who keeps coming around, except Oreo wasn’t meddlesome. She is as curious as any cat, and her peaceful demeanor helped her become part of the St. Augustine family.
This “oreo cat” cat isn’t pushy. She tends to stay in her own space. She doesn’t usually jump up on people’s laps. However, she welcomes head rubs and belly massages. If she’s curled up on a chair, she will purr and roll over contentedly when a visitor reaches out to her.
Oreo’s main job is to keep morale high. When employees are having a bad day, they immediately smile when they see the cat. The residents like to have her around.
Many of the residents had to say goodbye to their family pets when they entered the facility. Leaving four-legged companions behind can be one of the hardest challenges for seniors who move into a nursing home. By providing a home for the animal, the facility managers say that they’re also making the atmosphere more personal for the residents.
Oreo brings normalcy to an environment that can be distressing for some individuals, especially when they first move in. Because many of the patients wouldn’t be able to care for their own animal, they feel empowered by the fact that Oreo sticks around. Every resident has a hand in nurturing the cat. Experts also say that people tend to experience more health benefits from having a pet around when they aren’t burdened by pet care.
In accordance with typical feline behavior, Oreo has some quirky habits. One day, she’ll pop her head up from behind the reception desk. Another day, she’ll take over an empty wheelchair. She accompanies residents as they hang out around the facility. A favorite activity among residents and employees is snapping photos of the cat in peculiar positions.
One thing about cats is that they tend to show their authority. They take charge without asking for permission. Oreo is no different. She’s usually not mischievous, but she’s confident about where she goes and who she hangs out with. If she’s taking over the chair in the common room, she might not move unless you scratch between her ears.
St. Augustine is also home to Coco, a small dog who snuggles with residents. However, Coco hasn’t generated the same stir as Oreo. Maybe it’s the feline’s confidence that has made her famous. In addition to being known and loved by everyone who has met her in person, Oreo is also well-known across the internet. Her story has gone viral. The world can’t help but fall in love with her.
Dana Carns, the director of the advancement at the nursing home, says that St. Augustine needs Oreo just as much as Oreo needs the facility as a home. According to the National Service Animal Registry, therapy animals provide healing, relaxing and restorative benefits to people in nursing homes and hospitals. Many of the residents at St. Augustine have been separated from their families. Some of them have been through medical trauma, such as strokes or brain injuries.
Therapy animals are not the same as service animals. While service animals are protected under federal law, there are no official provisions for therapy animals. However, therapy animals may be registered under the National Service Animal Registry.
Some therapy animals are owned by individuals who donate their time to bring the pets to various facilities. Others live on site. Some are trained to assist patients who need help due to physical or mental impairment. These companions must have an even temperament and calm demeanor.
Cats and dogs aren’t the only creatures that make great therapy animals. According to Mercola Healthy Pets, llamas and alpacas are gaining a following in the field. They’re friendly and gentle, and many people fall in love with their sweet faces. VetStreet says that potbellied pigs make ideal therapy animals because they’re sociable and portable. They’re especially useful when working with children who have had scary experiences with dogs.
Although Oreo the cat is not officially a therapy cat, she serves the same purpose. She brings comfort, affection, and companionship to people in need.