Therapy cat provides ‘healing’ to hospice and hospital patients

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Elliot and Eileen, photo credit Carol Sonstein.jpg

Patients brighten up when Eileen Cowles, a Registered Dietician, comes into their hospital rooms. But even Cowles admits that they cheer up even more when she brings her friend Elliott with her. In fact, when Cowles pushes the stroller in which Elliot rides like a chariot, the patients nearly break out laughing.

Elliott is a long-haired Himalayan Flame Point. He loves the attention he can get, and the patients love giving it to him. The unusual partnership began nearly four and a half years ago when Cowles came home with the cat from a breeder.

Patients brighten up when Eileen Cowles, a Registered Dietician, comes into their hospital rooms. But even Cowles admits that they cheer up even more when she brings her friend Elliott with her. In fact, when Cowles pushes the stroller in which Elliot rides like a chariot, the patients nearly break out laughing.

Elliott is a long-haired Himalayan Flame Point. He loves the attention he can get, and the patients love giving it to him. The unusual partnership began nearly four and a half years ago when Cowles came home with the cat from a breeder.

“If Elliot could speak English, he would probably say ‘Anything for attention and loving.’ Truly he is the cat’s meow,” she said.

A friend helped her decide to name the cat Elliott, who established himself as king of the castle at Cowles’ home. Whenever the plumber or the pest control guy arrived at the house, Elliot was in the middle, wanting to help.

The dogs and other animals at the house also became comfortable with Elliot.
About two years ago, when the social worker with whom Cowles worked called to find out when she could next visit with her therapy dogs, she happened to remark that the patient actually preferred cats.

Cowles went to work to get Elliott certified in order for him to visit hospice patients. In the meantime, she discovered that San Diego Hospice had even changed their pet therapy policies to include cats so Elliot could visit their hospice.

The visits to patients at the hospital are escorted by a junior volunteer who checks with the patient. If the patient wants to meet Elliot, Cowles pushes him in his stroller to the bedside. She places the kingly cat on the bed beside the patient. After a visit from a few minutes to a half-hour, the patient receives a card with Elliot’s picture.

One of Cowles’ favorite visits of Elliot was with a man who was watching a football game and asked to have the cat on the bed beside him. Elliot cooperated, just lying there while the patient watched the game while petting him.

Cowles chatted for awhile with the patient’s wife, both of them astounded at the rapport between cat and patient. “Suddenly, the patient turned to us and explained that Elliot knew he was a cat person,” Cowles said. “I’m sure that helps, but I think it takes a very special cat to do what Elliot does routinely.”

Linda Van Fulpen, Manager, Volunteer Services at Sharp Grossmont Hospital agrees. “Elliot provides unconditional love to our patients. He is well-known around the hospital and everyone looks forward to his visits,” she said.

Cowles has noticed that more people do interact with Elliot when they arrive at a hospital or clinic than they do with a dog.

“I think it is just because they aren’t expecting to see a cat at the hospital, especially one in a stroller,” she said. “Plus, the visits tend to be longer with the cat because I think people that really like cats spend more time petting them than they do a dog.”

Staff members get in on the Elliot-loving game, too, like Nicole Quiroz, Marketing Coordinator at Sharp Grossmont.

“There are just as many cat lovers as there are dog lovers. We’re very fortzunate to have Elliot brighten the day of our patients and staff who like Cats,” Quiroz said.

“On one visit a doctor asked if he could take a picture on his cell phone of Elliot to show his wife how hard they worked in the hospital,” Cowles said, taking the cat into her arms. “I am very proud of him. I really enjoy providing pet therapy to people and see them become free from their pain and concerns, at least for a few minutes.”

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