Everyone needs someone, or something to care bbout. And newborn kittens need a lot of care. Round the clock care, as a matter of fact. Many animal shelters end up euthanizing newborn kittens because they simply can’t provide that. But one county shelter in southern Arizona has found an innovative solution.
In recent years, Pima County Animal Care Center in Tucson, AZ has been transforming itself. It changed its name from “Animal Control” to “Animal Care.” It has expanded and improved its facilities. It’s working toward no-kill status. In addition, it has started a program to foster animals in homes, rather than in county kennels. There’s a pet hotline to help people solve pet problems. And there are a number of creative new programs that make PCAC look more like a rescue than a dog pound. Their efforts are bearing fruit. Arizona Public Media reports that 90 percent of animals are leaving the shelter for homes — up from 40 percent ten years ago.
One of those innovative programs is a partnership with Catalina Springs Memory Care Community in Oro Valley. The project was the brainchild of Catalina director Rebecca Hamilton. She thought that if the residents and staff of the Memory Care Community could act as a foster family for newborn kittens, both the kittens and the residents would benefit. And she was right!
The day after Hamilton proposed the project, two kittens, Turtle and Peaches, arrived. And the benefits to everyone were immediate.
“Memory channels are reawakened again,” Hamilton says in the video. She talks about how caring for the kittens reawakened memories of residents’ past pets — and how happy this made them. One resident, Thelma, happily recalled the nineteen cats her family had owned when she was a child. Another, Greg, didn’t like to engage with other people. But after he started caring for the kittens, he would put one under each arm and go for a walk.
As for the kittens, under the careful care of Catalina residents, they doubled in size and were soon old enough to be adopted.
Caring for Pets Has Emotional Benefits
Caring for pets has numerous documented benefits — not just for pets, but for people, too. One of the benefits, anxiety reduction, has been particularly good for Hamilton’s Alzheimer’s patients. Sometimes Alzheimer’s patients “search” for things — even if they don’t know what those things are. It can be distressing, both for them and for caregivers. But Hamilton noticed that when she placed a kitten in her patients’ hands, the searching stopped. It was as if her patients had found what they were looking for.
Pets also give people a sense of purpose. This may seem abstract, but people need a sense of purpose more than you might think. Writer and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl observed that the people most likely to survive the camps were those who retained control over some aspect of their environment. This often took the form of caring for fellow prisoners. According to Frankl, humanity’s main drive is the search for meaning. And two ways people can find meaning are interacting with others and giving back to society.
People experiencing cognitive or physical decline are experiencing loss of control in a very basic and personal way. In addition, it’s not unusual to feel a loss of purpose. Something as simple as taking care of helpless kittens can give a sense of purpose.And, the knowledge that your actions are making a difference. And that, quite frankly, saves lives.
A Growing Trend
Nursing homes around the country are adopting similar programs. In Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and other places, rescue animals are bringing joy and purpose to nursing home residents. Interacting with pets on a regular basis has been shown to improve cognitive functioning, balance emotional concerns and increase feelings of enthusiasm and interest. And when rescue animals are involved, the animals receive the love and care they wouldn’t otherwise receive.
How You Can Help
If you’d like to work with a similar program, check with your local animal shelter or animal rescue organization. Chances are, there’s a program like this near you. You might also consider volunteering at a nursing home or animal shelter. And if you really enjoy it, you might even consider training your cat to become a therapy cat. It will take time, but the reward will be great for everyone.
We all need someone, or something to care about. And sometimes big love comes in tiny packages.
Featured Image is CC BY 2.0 by 1970 Lincoln Continental, via Flickr.