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Shani's journey to become a therapy cat

by Tahira Tarquini

Having a cat as your colleague…what a strange idea.

How did someone even think of that?

Shani and Tahira

That would have been my thoughts until a few years ago. I knew that cats could be trained, but I had no idea to what extent. 

Through the years I have learnt a lot more about training cats, and in my work in AAS - animal assisted services where I implemented my dogs, I used to make a joke that my house cat (another one), would be great for AAS, but back then I had no knowledge of cats being trained and implemented in work with people.

Then, two and a half years ago, Shani arrived. He was supposed to be a normal housecat, and I didn’t have any plans for working with cats yet, but Shani would soon start his journey to become a therapy cat. I chose Shani because he displayed an open and friendly demeanor, even during vet visits – at least, based on what I observed in the videos I received of him. Shani is a European Shorthair and comes from a litter that was not planned.

Shani the therapy cat

Once he was home with us, he was immediately friendly and he engaged in play. He was not skittish from being in a new place with strangers, and would always come for cuddles. I took him to different places, I taught him to walk on a leash, and people around me would often tell me how well-behaved and exceptionally friendly he was.

I was beginning to see how his positive traits were compatible with the traits sought after in animal assisted services. I started training simple commands with him like sit, target, crate, recall, jump (on something), follow the hand cue. He loved to work and sometimes he didn’t even care about the treat, he just wanted to keep doing things and stay in the interaction. Every time he saw my training pouch, we would come running. 

I started exposing him to situations that would test if he had the required traits needed for a therapy cat, and he seemed to handle them with ease. If he spooked, he recovered immediately. 

From the time I got Shani, my therapy dog Kira was soon to be retired. Seeing Shani’s personality, and having learnt that cats are also great as therapy animals, I was becoming more and more fond of the idea of working with him. He would be a great new therapy animal and it was not an option for me to certify and train another dog.

PADA test cat

It was decided: I would do the PADA - suitability assessment with him! So exciting! 

Shani turned out to be bold, friendly, curious, playful, and loves human interaction.  He passed with flying colours. For me, it was amazing to see. The PADA assessment revealed his true personality to me, and I was even more in awe of him.

Shani's journey to become a therapy cat

After the PADA test, Shani joined me for a lecture that I organized about cats in AAS. I was worried, I had to drive almost 2 hours with him (one way) and he had never done that before. Plus being in a completely different environment with a group of people giving him a lot of attention.

He was fantastic. He slept during the car trip, he explored the classroom, he cuddled every student and he enjoyed and participated in every activity the students proposed to him. Once back home, he was tired, and satiated. I think this day enriched his life.

That day was just like taking my dog with me to a lecture. If you have the chance to find a suitable cat for AAS, I recommend doing a suitability assessment and to certify your cat as a therapy cat. Working with your cat enriches your cats life and gives a new purpose to your life together. Your cat is still your family pet, but you have this amazing job you do together. It changes the general perspective of cats completely.

Shani the therapy cat

Shani currently assists me in the work I do with young adults. He is present in the office from time to time and they can play with him or teach him tricks. They also just love to have him around since he is a goofy cat that makes them laugh and after 10 minutes he wants to lay near them and relax. 

At the moment I am training him for Do As I Do (social learning), a new and exciting training method that mostly has been used only with dogs. We have many plans together and Shani is proving to be the perfect colleague, that gives people the unique interaction and attention only a cat can give. He makes them relax, he makes them feel loved and acts as a trusted friend and support. 

Cats suitable for AAS already have natural abilities as therapy animals. Often they require no training other then to learn to be comfortable in different environments.

There is a growing demand for more cats in animal-assisted services. Cats possess distinct qualities as therapy animals, and for many individuals, the preference leans towards cats. Many places, dogs are the sole option, leaving many who could benefit more from feline-assisted services without alternatives.


Therapy cat online course

PADA cat assessment


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