By Lori Powell, LCSW – Aug. 27, 2019

When I first began working as a Youth First Social Worker at an elementary school in 2017, I noticed the children enjoyed being welcomed by a stuffed animal cat in the mornings to promote a great start to their day. I have always kept various stuffed animals in my office to encourage kids and families to feel more comfortable talking to me.  

Over the years, I have purchased stuffed animals that resemble wild and domestic cats. However, the favorite cat of the majority of the children and adults at school is a big stuffed tiger.

At times I have even been asked by students if I would allow the stuffed animal tiger to visit their classroom for the entire day.  As a result, I am not surprised by the following statement from Rose M. Barlow of the Department of Psychology at Boise State University in Idaho:  “Animals, (real or toys) can help children and adults to experience and express emotions, a feeling of unconditional support, and grounding.” 

My real pet cat Jazzy and I became registered as an animal-assisted therapy team through Pet Partners in 2018.  According to Pet Partners, there are only 180 registered cat-assisted therapy teams in the US. 

My thoughts were that Jazzy could possibly reduce anxiety and anger issues that some of the students were experiencing at the time.  First, I contacted the parents of the children that I felt would benefit from this form of intervention and gained their approval to use this technique. 

I was able to bring Jazzy to school on two occasions. The students whose parents approved the animal-assisted therapy were really excited about visiting with Jazzy and were able to discuss some difficult experiences that they had incurred throughout their lives.  

One of the rules of being a registered assisted therapy team through Pet Partners is that the animal has to be bathed prior to each visit. By making sure that the animal has been cleaned, the allergens could be reduced and not cause severe allergic reactions to the animal’s presence. Unfortunately, however, the decision was made to no longer allow Jazzy in the school setting due to individual allergy issues.

Currently, Jazzy and I attend the Paws and Tales program at Red Bank Library in Evansville every other Thursday from 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm. This program allows children to read books to Jazzy.

The families and the staff at Red Bank Library enjoy visiting with Jazzy. The children who attend the program are motivated to read a book as a way to spend time with Jazzy, who also enjoys being brushed, petted, and given treats.

Even though there are many different people who visit with Jazzy on a regular basis, she has been able to completely bond with three individuals since the Paws and Tales program was started. Jazzy shows this high comfort level by purring very loudly for these individuals.

Jazzy loves to listen to children and adults read to her during the Paws and Tales Program. She is always willing to listen regardless of the individual’s reading ability!

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