Yanni is a survivor. He survived a dog attack, abuse by humans, and one of California’s worst high kill shelters. In April 2014, he was saved from the kill shelter by Anne, a social worker, and his life took a 360-degree turn.
I’ve been following Yanni’s Facebook page for a while and I was quite curious about him being a therapy cat. So, I had to interview him and share the story of this beautiful cat with you. Let’s hear what this brave kitty has to tell us!
Age: 2 years
Lives in: Orange County, Southern California, USA
Q: Yanni, tell us your story.
Yanni: Hi everybody! I am a Pet Partners’ Registered Therapy Cat with Paws 4 Healing in Orange County, California. My mummy, Anne Ross, is a social worker and a volunteer for Southern California Siamese Rescue (SoCSR). I’m not only a therapy cat; I’m also a survivor. I’ve survived a dog attack, abuse by humans, and one of California’s worst high kill shelters. In April 2014, my mummy pulled me from the shelter the day before I was to be euthanized!
Mummy took me home and I became her first foster kitty! She nursed me back to health and taught me how to play with toys. Then in July she taught me to walk on a leash, which I loved! I became a “caregiver kitty” to mummy’s other cat, a 17 year old Siamese named Petunia until she died in December. I’ve always known I was meant to be a therapy cat not just for people, but for other kitties too! Now I just had to show mummy! She had been hoping to find a therapy cat for many years.
In the fall, mummy took me to a special adoption event held in a large auditorium. This was my chance to show mummy what I was meant to do! While walking through the crowded auditorium on my leash, I worked the room like a celebrity at the Oscars! Crowds gathered around me asking questions. I jumped on vendors’ tables and played with their toys! I posed and cavorted like a supermodel for the photographer! And I even walked up on stage when they were giving away prizes! Mummy says she drove home in a daze, realizing from my behavior that I was the therapy cat of her dreams! She was relieved that no one had adopted me–because she had decided to adopt me herself!
In November 2014, while we were getting ready to become a therapy cat team, I developed Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Mummy stopped training me for two months until I felt better. After several other setbacks, we passed the Pet Partners evaluation in April 2015– and the following month I became a Registered Therapy Cat. Now we are preparing to go out on our first visits to elderly folks in assisted living facilities!
Q: Can you tell us about the process of becoming a therapy cat?
Yanni: My mummy was very careful in choosing a pet therapy organization to join. I am a special needs kitty with digestive issues, so we needed a group with a chapter close to home. Our process took longer because I got sick. Mummy started training me in August 2014 –well before she chose a group. We became a Registered Therapy Cat Team in May 2015. If you’re lucky, you can get certified in about 3 or 4 months.
Mummy and I belong to Pet Partners, the largest pet therapy organization In the US. At Pet Partners, mummy and I went through 5 steps to become a Registered Therapy Cat Team: 1.) The Training Stage; 2.) the Handler’s Orientation Course ; 3.) a veterinary health check; 4.) an Evaluation that tested our skills and, finally 5.) Registration Application Submission and Processing.
During the Training stage, mummy taught me to wear a harness and walk on a leash -first at home, and then in public places like parks and PetSmart. Then I learned a few simple commands: “Come”, “sit”, “stay” and “lie down”. “Stay” is the hardest one for me! Cats aren’t tested on this stuff, but it helps to know these things when you go visiting people!
Next, mummy went to the 8-hour Handler’s Oriention Course to learn more about pet therapy. Then she signed us up for the Therapy Cat Team Evaluation. In between the two, I went to the vet and he signed a paper saying I had all my vaccinations and I was healthy enough to be a therapy cat.
About a month later, we had our Evaluation. It’s a series of exercises simulating events that occur in a nursing home environment. Both the kitty’s performance and the handler’s conduct are scored. Cats are evaluated on their ability to tolerate being groomed, held and petted by a stranger as well as being handed from one person’s lap to another. They are expected to lie still in laps for a short time and remain calm while people pass by using wheelchairs, crutches or walkers. In general, handlers are evaluated on their skills in handling their cat; their ability to interact with other people, and their ability to remain calm, during difficult situations.
Once you pass the evaluation, the results indicate which type of people you may work best with–children in schools, hospitals or libraries– or elderly folks in assisted living facilities, hospices or nursing homes. Mummy and I passed our evaluation with a perfect score. We were given a “complex” rating—which means you can visit people in any setting, including most complex settings—schools and hospitals.
Finally, mummy did lots of paperwork and sent in an application packet with our evaluation results for approval and processing. Once you get your certificate or registration in the mail and your ID tags you’re ready to start visiting! Mummy and I are getting ready for our first visit.
Q: Were you nervous at your Pet Partners’ evaluation?
Yanni: During the Pet Partners evaluation, I was in a big auditorium with a nice cool floor. I walked around with my harness and leash on for mummy and the nice ladies watching us. Mummy put me on a table and I lay down so The Nice ladies could brush me, purring away. People were yelling nearby, I purred and perked up my ears. Mummy held me and walked through a bunch of people milling around. Some of them were yelling at each other. Another person bumped into mummy when she was holding me to see what I would do and I just lay in her arms cuz I knew I was safe! Then strangers handled me and patted me hard, one let me almost slip off her lap but I kept purring the whole time. It was fun!
There was a barking dog that made me a little nervous, but mummy talked to me and petted me until I relaxed. Next, we walked between a bunch of traffic cones so I could show off how well I walk on a leash. The floor was so cool, I stopped to lie down twice! Mummy laughed at me and the evaluator told her to pick me up! When we were given our score, mummy couldn’t believe it. We both got a perfect score! Mummy thought I messed up – but during our walk, we were allowed “stops”. So mummy said my lying down twice must have counted as two stops! We both ended up with a complex rating, which means that we can visit any one in any setting – children or elderly folks in schools, libraries, hospitals, nursing homes or hospices! Mummy was so proud of me, she gave me my special treats!
Q: What are the characteristics and temperament cats need to have to become therapy cats?
Yanni: Mummy says these are the qualities that, in general, make a good therapy cat:
- Very friendly, easy going personality. Loves people. Curious about new things.
- Able to wear a harness and walk on a leash in public places and in groups of people.
- Bold, confident attitude—not easily frightened by new or strange people or things.
- Likes being held and petted –will lie on people’s laps –or next to them
- Tolerant of being held in awkward positions and accepts rough patting without objecting.
- Likes dogs—or at least tolerates them.
- Accepts being put in a cat carrier.
- Can ride in a car without getting carsick.
- Adaptable, adjusts well to change.
- Intelligent—accepts training.
- Nurturing, care-giving attitude. Pays close attention to people or other animals that are sick.
Q: Things you love?
Yanni: I’m a therapy cat! I love everybody and everything (well, almost!) I love being held like a baby! I love going for walks in the park and exploring new places like the garden center at Home Depot! And I love riding in my pet stroller! And I love raising foster kittens and helping scared kitties learn to be brave!
Q: Things you hate?
Yanni: I am so full of love, there is nothing that I hate! But I will say that I don’t like white meat chicken, which mummy thinks is very funny since all her other kitties love it!
Q: What’s your favorite toy?
Yanni: Anything with feathers that makes noise! Especially Da Bird!
Q: What’s your favorite treat?
Yanni: Addiction brand venison kibble – it’s hypoallergenic dry kitty food mummy gives me in small amounts when we’re training — yum, yum!
Q: Your life motto or favorite quote?
What the caterpillar sees as the end of the world, others call a butterfly.”
For more inspiring stories of cats, make sure you check our other interviews with cats.