Free hotline offers seniors a virtual session with their own ‘therapy chat’

Do you know someone over 60 who feels lonely? Help is just a phone call away. Purina Cat Food has partnered with two nonprofit organizations to provide much-needed virtual therapy chat visits for seniors.

Wait…is that a trick?

When we think of the term “therapy animal,” most of us are probably inclined to imagine a dog. After all, dogs dominate the field of therapy animals by 94%. Felines, on the other hand, are part of the remaining 6% (which are combined with other animals). Anyone who’s experienced that special, soothing happiness that comes from petting a purring kitten in her lap will tell you: Those numbers could be wrong. Although therapy cats make up a smaller percentage of this segment, cats offer a wide range of positive benefits that make them wonderful therapy animals.

Just ask Roger and Sal – a pair of registered therapy cats – and their handler Tracy Howell.

Since 2016, Tracy and Roger have worked with Pet Partners®, a non-profit organization that matches volunteer therapy animals of all kinds with people in need of a visit from a four-legged friend, including pet care facilities. nursing homes, assisted living facilities, palliative care centers and children’s hospitals.

Tracy and Roger in 2016; Photo courtesy of Tracy Howell

Sal is a meow besides the team. But he already works very, very hard…putting his head on people’s thighs and letting them massage his paws. What a gig.

According to Pet Partners, which has registered more than 1,500 felines in its therapy animal program, some populations prefer cats to dogs. For one thing: they’re more compact and generally quieter, which makes cuddling on your lap a much more zen-like experience.

Additionally, cats tend to be more demanding of the people they interact with, which can signal a nice little ego boost. “Cats have a reputation for being selectively affectionate. If a cat loves you, you’re special,” says Moira Smith, Pet Partners staff member, team assessor and cat handler.

Basically, it feels really good to be invited into the Cat Club. Some of Roger and Sal’s most loyal fans are, in fact, older people, especially people with dementia.


“People think it must be hard to visit older people with dementia, but it’s not,” she told Upworthy. “They tend to repeat questions often, so if you get your answer wrong, chances are you won’t be wrong the next time they ask you the question. I laughed so many times during our visits with older people – just because you’re older doesn’t mean you stop being funny.

Photo courtesy of Purina® Cat Chow®

Where the humor isn’t lost, the connection is. With many family members dead, living far away, or not allowed to visit due to COVID-19 restrictions, loneliness is a major issue older people often face. This leads to depression, anxiety and irritability.

That’s where Roger and Sal come in. A typical therapy cat visit consists of cuddles on the lap with warm blankets, a nap, and a bit of TV. Sometimes older people will tell Tracy about their own cats they once had and how much they loved them.

During the pandemic, Roger and Sal have even excelled in their virtual visits. Although nothing replaces the emotional engagement of one-on-one interactions, to research said virtual animal content always brightens the mood.

Photo courtesy of Tracy Howell

Tracy agreed that even though they weren’t able to be in person, the trio still managed to make a connection and keep people smiling and happy. Roger even performed a few tricks. Maybe the cats affinity for interrupting Zoom calls can be useful after all.

The online visits had such an impact that for Mental Health Awareness Month in May, Cat Chow, Pet Partners and the Institute on Aging are working together to get more people over the age of 60 to connect to virtual therapy chat visits. By calling 800-616-5152, seniors can schedule one of 50 free virtual therapy chat visits with a Pet Partners therapy chat team. This means that kittens like Roger and Sal are going to have VIP status, which is to say very important pets.

the Complete project was made possible by Purina Cat Chow, a company that knows all too well the healing powers of cats. Throughout May, for every purchase of Cat Chow Complete, Purina will donate two cents per purchase, up to $25,000, to Pet Partners to support their therapy animal program. This donation will help more cats like Roger and Sal ensure that more people have access to the therapeutic benefits of cats.

If you are a cat lover and want to show your support, you can find out more at catchow.com/therapy.

Photo courtesy of Purina® Cat Chow®

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