Kitten Therapy Changing Lives in DC

Shelter animals used to help cerebral palsy patients

Traditionally, we think of dogs as being the ultimate therapy animals.  A growing program in the District that uses shelter cats for rehabilitation just might change your mind.

It all began last winter when the Washington Humane Society started a partnership with United Cerebral Palsy of D.C. and Northern Virginia.

Shelter kittens were sent to live at the UCP facilities, where cerebral palsy individuals go for treatment.  

"The thing about cats is that they're really good with their sense of touch,” said Lisa LaFontaine, President and CEO of Washington Humane Society.  “They will crawl up in your lap and you can pet them -- it's just a great sensory experience and so cats are especially therapeutic.”

Just the natural act of picking up and interacting with the little cuddly creatures has helped more than 200 patients improve their motor and sensory skills.

"We have been told and we've seen for ourselves that people who haven't been interactive are really reaching out to touch the cats,” said LaFontaine.

The program is also benefiting the animals.  There are usually twice as many cats as dogs in Washington Humane Society shelters.  

“If the cats were just sitting in a shelter, they would be just sitting in a cage, with little human contact,” said LaFontaine. “But here, they are with people all the time.”

The rehabilitation program has made it easier for the cats to find a permanent home.  Living in an environment where they’re constantly around people makes them less skittish to potentially families looking to adopt.

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