Even Hairless Sphynx Cats Give Patients a Warm, Fuzzy Feeling
December 02, 2009
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 Muscle Shoals, Ala., says the animal brings about a transformation in the human. “They bring so much peace and happiness to the patients,” she says.
Serene-looking humans? Absolutely.
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 are.”
The cats are rare – only several thousand exist in the USA. Jak, the first registered therapy Sphynx in the country, belongs to Terry and Sharron True of Muscle Shoals. The Trues breed and show Sphynxes.
Terry True says holding Jak is like holding “a suede hot-water bottle.” When the Trues first started doing therapy with cats, 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 benefits
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. In their new book, Guardians of Being, author Eckhart Tolle 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 visiting animals.”
Terry adds: “The patients aren’t just physically ill when they’re in the hospital, they’re also emotionally suffering. 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.”