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Cats at Work

Cats at Work

As anyone who has ever been around a cat for any length of time well knows, cats have enormous patience with the limitations of the humankind. ~Cleveland Amory

The title of the chapter may cause some head scratching. If most of us were asked to name animals that work, the cat would not top our lists (nor appear on them at all). The dog, of course, would be right up there with the horse. From the time they were first domesticated, dogs have been bred and trained to perform a variety of functions, such as hunting and herding, for our benefit. Today, dogs are also trained in search-and-rescue work, as companions for the sight- and hearing-impaired, to sniff out drugs, and to detect materials and conditions from bombs to cancer. In fact, there are even dogs trained to sniff out cash and thus are helping to prevent tax evaders from getting on a plane and leaving a particular country!

By contrast, cats really domesticated themselves, their usefulness to humankind being the mutually beneficial act of rounding up rodents (see chapter 1). For this, cats required no training and operated pretty much on their own schedule. As domestic felines won their places in the homes and hearts of their owners (and mice became less of an issue in urban households), they settled down to cushy, nonworking lives. And it turns out that it is by being their laid-back feline selves in our environs every day that cats provide their greatest service to us. Studies have shown that people who are around cats suffer less stress and anxiety, conditions that could lead to fatal heart attacks.

The most important research highlighting how simply being around cats is "great medicine" was conducted by Dr. Adnan Qureshi, executive director of the Zeenat Qureshi Stroke Research Center at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, who, in 2008, released the findings of his ten-year study. Qureshi and colleagues based their work on a previous National Health and Nutrition Examination Study that was conducted in the United States from 1976 to 1980. From this National Health and Nutrition Examination study, they extracted data on 4,435 Americans aged thirty to seventy-five. Of their sample, 2,435 of the participants were current or former cat owners, whereas the remaining 2,000 had never lived with a cat. These researchers highlighted causes of death in their sample, including stroke and other heart events, and found that over a ten-year follow-up period, cat owners showed a 40 percent lower risk of death from heart attacks compared with those who did not own cats.Consequently, if one had to give the average cat who dispenses love and affection on a daily basis a job title, it would undoubtedly be Public Relations Officer Promoting Human Health and Well-Being. This is probably too much of a mouthful for most of us, which is why we simply refer to them as "therapy cats," whether they are "working" in their own homes or outside of it by visiting people of all ages and in all walks of life and giving them a dose of special feline "medicine."

A cat can play a useful role in a therapy, day-care, library, or senior-center setting.

Therapy Cats: The Power of the Purr

The health work of felines has had far-reaching effects, bringing about enormous benefits, especially for the elderly and the infirm. For example, as an acknowledgment of the health benefits of having a cat, many landlords around the country have relaxed and changed their "no pets allowed" policies for tenants. Many assisted-living centers and old age homes now "employ" a resident cat as a companion to the residents. Best of all, hospitals have started opening their doors to specially certified therapy cats, allowing them to visit patients on a regular basis and dispense their special brand of feline love and affection.Although a therapy cat requires no special training, candidates for this type of work must have certain qualifications or characteristics. The therapy cat must be a lap cat, with a placid yet affectionate disposition, one who is comfortable meeting and interacting with new people and accepting of sights and sounds not usual in her home environment. A therapy cat also needs to be tolerant of petting that can be a bit rough at times, as well as of being poked and pulled a bit. It's not that the people a therapy cat meet are trying to treat her roughly, but some are children who have to be instructed on touching a cat properly and others are too infirm or disabled to give the cat a gentle caress. Finally, she must enjoy traveling by car and possibly walking on a leash.

As the owner of a therapy cat, try to ascertain whether your feline has a preference for being around children or older people. If you are not sure how your cat will react to going to visit strangers, start with visits to family and friends and gauge her reaction to being in a different environment. See whether she interacts better with children or older people. Some cats are fine with both groups; if this is case, decide whether you have a preference for visiting hospitals and hospices as opposed to children's centers and schools. Be sure to take treats along. Cats are quick learners, and your cat will soon associate a trip in the car with being placed next to someone who will pet her and give her a treat. It's important to ensure your cat's vaccinations are always up to date and that she is in good health so that she doesn't endanger anyone you may visit who has an impaired immune system. Take your therapy cat for veterinary checkups every six months. It's always a good idea to own two cat carriers; one that's strictly associated with trips to the vet and the other one for social outings such as therapy visits.

A therapy cat can bring joy to those with mental and physical challenges.

Assisted Animal Therapy Organizations

Pet Partners (formerly the Delta Society), based in Bellevue, Washington, is a world leader in the field of human–pet relationship research. In 1990, the group launched its Pet Partners Program training volunteers and their animals to visit people in a variety of situations, from hospitals and hospices and assisted-living facilities to classrooms and children's homes. They currently have about 10,000 teams of people and pet therapists, and 200 of the teams include felines. To be certified by the organization, all volunteers have to register for Pet Partner's one-day workshop, which provides information on how to identify stress in animals and how to work within different population groups. Volunteers can be as young as ten years of age but must have parental permission. The workshops are held around the country but can also be taken online through the organization's website. Part of the certification process also includes an evaluation of both the volunteer and his or her cat to ensure that both have the right temperament for this time of work. For the cat owner, it can sometimes be very emotional work. Pet Partners operates in all fifty states. Its network links volunteers with facilities in their own communities that request pet visitors and also helps pet partners contact new locations to visit. Volunteers working under the organization's umbrella are covered by the society's liability insurance. The society accepts individual volunteers, as well as families. Cat therapy work is a wonderful way of sharing your cat's love; the benefits derived by the recipients of this feline affection are instantaneous.

Grief Therapy

Grief therapy is a special type of counseling given to console people who have suffered severe trauma resulting from death and destruction that they have witnessed. Typical natural disaster scenarios are fires, floods, and earthquakes that have caused massive destruction and loss of life. Grief therapy is also used to console students whose school campuses have become battlegrounds involving shooting incidents, such as the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in 1999, when two senior students went on a rampage, killing twelve students and a teacher and injuring many more. A similar incident took place on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, in 2007, when a lone gunman killed thirty-two students. And, again in 2012, when a gunman opened fire at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado. Feline therapy also played a huge role with the families who lost loved ones in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut. The Red Cross and other relief organizations also used grief therapy to console the families and friends of those killed in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. BibleInitially, this type of therapy work was limited to volunteers with dogs. This has begun to change, however, as there is no question that the power of the purr can do wonders to help heal in such situations, too.

Literacy Therapy

Another type of therapy had its origins not long ago in the schoolroom. As teachers know too well, students with reading disabilities face two opponents when they try to improve their reading skills-their own disabilities and the taunting of their peers. In 1999, Intermountain Therapy Animals, a Salt Lake City organization, started the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) program aimed at helping these students. Dogs were introduced into classrooms and libraries to serve as nonjudgmental and comforting listeners to children reading aloud, which helped them not only to improve their reading skills but also to gain self-confidence. As the concept of literacy therapy was taken up by other organizations, including Pet Partners, forward-thinking educators realized that cats, too, would make great reading buddies (naturally). Feline literacy therapists are happy to curl up in a lap and "listen" to the stories being read. This reading buddy system works and is encouraged in the home environment, too.

Other Forms of Therapy

The fact that cats have such a wonderful therapeutic effect on humans has prompted medical researchers to look at other areas where the power of the purr can be beneficial to humankind in general. Currently, cat therapy research is being conducted in several fields, including the ones below.

Cancer:

Research done at the University of California-San Francisco has shown that owning pets helps to strengthen a person's immune systems as a result of their exposure to allergens in the household relating to pet hair. And as a result, cat (and dog) owners have a 30 percent less likely chance of developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL).

Broken bones:

Experts from the Fauna Communications Research Institute in North Carolina are speculating that cats' vibrational frequencies when purring at their dominant frequency range of 25–50 Hertz may also help heal and grow denser human bones.

Love hormones:

According to New York psychologist and psychoanalyst Joel Gavriele-Gold, PhD, there's a great deal to be said for nonverbal contact and the simple companionship cats offer. Gavriele-Gold says that, in today's frenetic world, people often have trouble staying in touch with their emotions; interacting with cats offers a way for people to reconnect with their feelings and themselves. "Petting a cat or simply watching your pet curled up asleep somehow brings us closer to nature and a sense of oneness with the world."Gavriele-Gold says that, for many people, the fear of reaching out and touching someone is based on the anticipation of rejection and criticism. Pets are a primary source of touching and being touched. People who are not ready for a deep human relationship seem to find more comfort in animals than in people, and, in these instances, it can be very comforting being around a feline. Researchers exploring the human–animal bond have discovered that the "love hormone," oxytocin, released by the body during childbirth and sex, comes into play when humans and animals bond, too. This is the subject of a book titled Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human–Animal Bond by Meg Daley Olmert.

Having a therapy cat on hand can help distract a cancer patient from the effects of chemotherapy.

Public Cats: The Power of Personality

Cats have not limited themselves to the therapy field when it comes to the work world. Just as the power of the feline purr has offered many people great comfort, the power of the feline personality has given many people great delight. Cats have put their winning personalities to good use in libraries, hotels, retail businesses, show rings, and various entertainment fields.

Libraries

It was Reggie, the cat-in-residence at the Bryant Public Library in Sauk, Minnesota, who inspired librarian Phyllis Lahti to found the Library Cat Society in 1987. Since then, dozens of member libraries from around the world continue to exchange information on their cats whose job description includes attracting people to libraries, especially children and the elderly who possibly live alone and aren't able to keep a pet of their own. Historically, there have been cats in libraries for decades. In the past, they were mostly feral and earned their keep doing rodent patrol. Modern-day Biblelibrary cats are more involved in "communications and public relations" with the library-visiting public, and many have been named after authors such as Bronté and Emily Dickinson or have appropriately "bookish" names like Page and Libris.Undoubtedly, the most famous library cat was Dewey ReadMore Books, a ginger tabby who was found by Vicki Myron, director of the library in Spencer, Iowa, as a tiny bedraggled kitten in the library's book drop chute in 1988. Shortly after the kitten's rescue, city officials approved the library's cat-in-residence and a photo of the city's "new employee" sitting on the card catalog appeared in The Daily Reporter in Spencer. Residents were invited to help name the kitty, and 394 cast ballots.

It is unclear how Dewey catapulted to fame from greeting visitors to the library to appearing as Mr. January in a national cat calendar. Next came his role in the documentary Puss in Books: Adventures of the Library Cat, made by filmmaker Gary Roma. Finally, Myron wrote the cat's amazing life story, titled Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, which became an international bestseller. Dewey lived until he was 19 years old, and when he passed away in 2006, more than 200 newspapers across America ran his obituary.Like Dewey, most current library cats were abandoned and rescued by caring library staff members. It's a great "job" for a cat, with excellent benefits in the form of love and care. Dewey certainly helped to popularize the current trend of library felines. In 1999, the Ocean Shores Library in Ocean Shores, Washington, created a special library cat position on its staff roster after a survey revealed that 98 percent of the patrons favored a furry staff member. A cat named Trixie was appointed and was even given her own checkbook to pay for food and veterinary bills.

The Library Cat Society was founded in 1987, and there are dozens of member libraries across the globe.

It's become common for used bookstores to have a resident feline.

Leisure and Retail

These days, many pet-friendly businesses are employing an official greeter, or "director of pet relations" as the pet involved is often called. Many small business owners who have placid cats have found that taking their felines to work draws people to the store. Cats "work" well in bookstores, gift stores, and even in office situations. More recently, even corporate America has been opening doors to parttime feline employees by allowing staff members to bring their pets to work. If your cat has the temperament and your work place is a safe and secure environment, there's no reason why your cat can't get a job dispensing feline love and affection in the workplace.

In the case of the hotel and leisure industry, a feline greeter gives guests a "fur fix" when they are traveling and have had to leave their own cats at home. Undoubtedly, the world's most famous feline employed in the leisure industry is a Rag Doll named Matilda III who lives at the Algonquin Hotel in midtown Manhattan, where she's been in residence since 2010 greeting guests at this stylish boutique hotel off Times Square. Matilda, who began life as an abandoned kitty, receives e-mails from around the world on a daily basis, gifts on her birthday, and cards at Christmas. Some guests even write to tell her when they plan to visit again and ask if she would please pass on the information to the reservation desk. As the Algonquin's Directfurr of Pet Relations, her perks include scrumptious meals from the hotel's kitchen, her own chaise longue in the hotel lobby, a private closet for her litter box and food, and a place to escape when guests get too noisy at her self-appointed nap times. The hotel management believes that having Matilda on hand to greet everyone in the lobby instantly makes travelers, especially if they are on business, feel more at home. She befriends everyone and guests often write to her when they get home as if they're corresponding with a friend.

Advertising and Entertainment

The fact that cats and dogs (and other domestic animals) have come to be considered full-fledged members of the family has had a direct impact not only on pet products, but also on advertising and show business. In recent decades, cats and dogs have been playing more prominent roles in TV sitcoms and all forms of media advertising, and even more starring roles in Hollywood movies. Of course, some older films featured animals (see chapter 3, Movies), but undoubtedly feline and canine actors have been appearing more and more as the decades have passed. They don't necessarily have to play in a starring role; sometimes it's just a fleeting appearance as a member of a household. But this scenario in itself is cropping up more and more. There are roles for both superbly coifed show cats-such as Mr. Bigglesworth, the svelte Sphynx cat who starred alongside Mike Myers as Dr. Evil in the Bond spoof Austin Powers (1997)-as well as typical cat-next-door types. In fact, cats with unusual markings don't often get roles because their markings may appear strange from certain camera angles, and it's more difficult to find a feline "body doubles" when filming a full-length feature. It's not unusual for several cats to play one role in the film.

Every day, pet talent agencies around the country are inundated by doting and starry-eyed pet parents who are determined to carve out a lucrative career for their felines, hoping that, if not a starring role in a movie, then possibly a spokescat deal like the one Morris the Cat has for 9Lives pet food. (The World's First Spokescat.) Before you let your feline give up her day job as the competent inventor of 101 different snooze positions on the family couch, you should realize that feline stardom can be very hard to achieve. Cats need special training to be in front of the camera-and some very lucky breaks. Most of the cats who do have careers in the advertising and show business worlds are owned by professional trainers and are capable of reacting to both voice commands and hand directives.

If you still want find out something about these worlds, pet talent agencies offer training classes based on positive reinforcement techniques such as clicker training, and training never goes to waste. Bear in mind, though, that these types of classes can be more expensive than other training classes. So weigh the pros and cons before you take the next step. As with their human counterparts, cats, even the most gorgeous and talented, can have a hard time breaking into the entertainment business (and they don't make good waiters in restaurants!). If you've decided to pursue a career for your cat, one way to get started, in addition to the training lessons, is to seek out local photographers in your area and ask them whether they need a cat or cats for a project. You may even consider having a set of professional photographs taken for future use.Check out local film schools and make them aware of your feline's aspirations. Because all film school students need to make a film to graduate, this could be a way of getting your feline into the business.

A perfect example of this is Seattle-based filmmaker Will Braden, the creator of the famous Henri Le Chat Noir videos that have become a YouTube sensation. As a student at the Seattle Film Institute, he had to do a project for his class. The students had been watching black-and-white avant-garde French movies from the 1950s and '60s, and Braden decided to do a parody. He asked family members if he could use their cat, a black-and-white Tuxedo named Henry, for the film and he renamed him Henri for his cinematic debut. The videos have a French soundtrack with English subtitles and won Braden a Lifetime Achievement Award at The Friskies Awards in 2012, honoring the best cat videos on the Internet. At the time this book went to print, Henri had more than 154,000 Facebook fans. The website sells a variety of merchandise in Henri's likeness, and there's a book in the works, too. Henri is famous around the world and has become a financial success for Braden, too.

Some bed-and-breakfasts have an affectionate feline on the premises to prevent customers from going through cat withdrawal.

Products Tester

In recent years, the pet products industry has exploded and, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), in 2013 earned more than $55 billion. When it comes to cats, the focus has been on foods, home accessories from litter boxes to beds, and dinnerware and toys for feline enrichment. Although companies usually have their own feline testers, they are often looking for opinions from the public feline sector. If you are keen to get involved, the best way is to contact the companies concerned and make your cat available to be a tester. There is no pay, but you will get to keep the products that are the focus of the research.

Show World

Being a professional show cat can indeed be a full-time job because there are cat shows held on local, regional, and national levels every weekend of the year! The show ring isn't the exclusive domain of pedigreed felines either, because most shows include a household section that is open to mixed breeds. House cats are judged collectively without regard to their sex, age, color, or coat length. Instead of being judged to a specific breed standard, the competitors are judged for their uniqueness, pleasing appearance, unusual marking, and sweet natures. However, they may not be declawed, and, if they are more than eight months old, they must have been spayed or neutered. Every cat entered receives a red and white merit award as a testament to her good health and vitality. Getting your cat involved in the show world is a great way to connect with other cat people. However, it takes both time and dedication to learn how to groom your cat for the show ring. This is particularly important if you have a pedigreed feline and are taking the competition seriously. Furthermore, it's important to ascertain whether this time-consuming lifestyle will fit into your daily schedule and not be a drain on your finances. Most importantly, you need to determine whether the show ring is right for your cat. Factors to consider include whether your cat has the temperament to be handled by strangers and whether she is spooked by crowds and loud noises. Does she have any objection to traveling and spending long hours in a show hall? Many people who show professionally say that their cats thrive on the attention, both in the show ring and from spectators and that it's an enjoyable "work experience" for all concerned.

Cat Blogger

Social media-specifically blogs and websites-are making different job opportunities available to cats and their owners. There are numerous cat blogs and websites "run" by cats. So if you have an excellent knowledge about felines at large, or your cat is adept at charity work and can raise money for animal shelters, then you and your cat may have a career as a cat blogger or website personality. There are many blogs and websites that are sponsored. You may not become rich, but you could develop it into a big enough business to earn a living.

If you are lucky, teaching your cat some tricks could lead her into a career in film or on stage.

From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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