Story & Photos by Tamana "Meow-Chand"
According to scientific research done over the years, reduced anxiety levels, lowered blood pressure and decreased risk of heart disease are just some of the benefits that the elderly at Orange Valley Old Folks Home gain after interacting with some feline friends.
Cat Assisted Therapy Singapore (CATS) actively conducts cat therapy sessions because they believe that it provides physical, social, cognitive and emotional benefits to the elderly.
“What the elderly need is moral and emotional support. We can see some elderly change from being quiet or grumpy patients to happier patients. This is the magic of animal therapy,” said Sharil Rahim, the founder of CATS.
“Cat therapy is suitable for all ages. Currently, we focus more on the elderly at nursing homes as they can feel very lonely being away from their family members which makes them feel upset.”
“These cats form a special bond and the elderly always look forward to seeing them even though it is just once a month,” said Sharil, who is currently an Executive of Volunteer Management at Ang Mo Kio - Thye Hua Kwan Hospital.
CATS conducts five therapy sessions a month, happening on both weekdays and weekends. Some of their beneficiaries include the National Kidney Foundation, Jamiyah Nursing Home and Orange Valley Old Folks Home. “We try to spread it across the island so that our volunteers are able to run the sessions which are near their homes,” Sharil shared.
CATS has definitely come a long way since its founding in May 2013.
“I went through so much to start CATS and to get to where we are now was not easy. But with the support of my co-founder and my CATS family, we’ve pulled through! Our beneficiaries are the reason why we do this.”
Currently, there are about 33 cats in the entire team, and there are rules and regulations that every cat has to follow before they can start providing therapy. The cats need to be groomed before all sessions. This includes cleaned ears, clipped nails and they need to be showered at least once a month. Additionally, if the cats are above six months old, they have to be sterilised.
To ensure the safety of the elderly and the cats, CATS runs a very strict screening process. “It boils down to the cat's temperament and its well-being. It also has to be healthy and well-groomed,” Sharil revealed.
While the session is centered around the cats and elderly, the volunteers play an equally important role as well. The interaction between the volunteers and elderly helps build up the elderly’s social skills.
They are also encouraged to brush and stroke the cats as this encourages them to bond with the cat and also helps them to exercise their muscles. This would help them maintain strength and slow down the processes of ageing.
After almost four years with CATS, Sharil divulges his biggest take-away.
“We form friendships with the residents from the nursing homes. They remember the cats’ names better than our names and always look forward to seeing them. This is what money can't buy!”