02 January 2024
Every day Juanita Mengel, a 67-year-old woman from the state of Ohio, wakes up and puts on her manufactured leg. The device is called a prosthetic.
Then, Mengel does the same for Lola-Pearl, her colorful five-year-old cat. Lola-Pearl is missing her back left leg.
Mengel has many cats. Most of them have disabilities. But Lola-Pearl is special. She is a therapy cat. And, she and Mengel are partners of a kind. They are among 200 therapy cat teams registered in the United States by the nonprofit group, Pet Partners.
The group helps humans and pets alike by setting them up into teams to provide animal-assisted intervention. The teams visit hospitals, nursing homes and schools and assist those in need.
Taylor Chastain Griffin is national director of animal-assisted interventions at Pet Partners. She said, "A therapy animal is an animal who's been assessed based on their ability to meet new people and not just tolerate the interaction, but actively enjoy it."
Chastain Griffin is a researcher who studies the effects of therapy cats. She said there needs to be more research done in cat therapy. She said that there is a lot of research on other therapy animals like dogs, and many people are surprised to learn that cats can be therapy animals too.
"They go into a setting and people are like, 'Whoa, there's a cat on a leash. What's happening? It kind of inspires people to connect in a way we haven't traditionally heard talked about in other therapy animal interventions," Chastain Griffin said.
Besides dogs and cats, Pet Partners registers seven other species as therapy animals, including horses, rabbits, rats, guinea pigs, birds, mini pigs, and llamas and alpacas.
Mengel said Lola-Pearl showed signs that she would make a good therapy cat soon after the animal joined her family. Mengel took her new cat to a meeting for amputees.
"She was so good with people I just knew she would be a good therapy cat. People really were attracted to her, too," Mengel said.
Recently people who attended a support group for amputees were able to meet Lola-Pearl. They petted her as she woke up from a rest. On the side of the cat carrier she rode in was a sign: "Therapy Cat" it read.
Mengel was a traveling nurse when she was in a car accident that almost killed her. One of her legs could not be saved.
Later, she connected with a friend in the state of Missouri who had a severely injured kitten. Her legs were twisted together. An animal medical specialist worked to repair the damage but, in the end, they had to remove one of the baby cat's legs.
That kitten was Lola-Pearl.
Mengel took Lola-Pearl as her cat after talking with her friend. Despite the difficulties Mengel has faced, she is thankful for Lola-Pearl and their work together.
"It's a really rewarding experience," she said, "I get just as much out of it as the people that I visit."
I'm Faith Pirlo.
Patrick Orsagos reported this story for the Associated Press. Faith Pirlo adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
therapy – n. the treatment of physical or mental illnesses
assess – v. to make a judgement about a person or a thing
tolerate – v. to permit something to happen; to be able to bear the results of something
impact – n. a powerful or major influence or effect
leash – n. a long, thin piece of rope, chain, etc., that is used for holding a dog or other animal
inspire – v. to make someone want to do something
amputee – n. a person who has had an arm or leg cut off
limb – n. a leg or arm
twisted — v. to bend or turn in order to change its shape