Hospice Therapy Cat TOM

Hospice cat Tom holds hand of deceased veteran Edwin Gehlert
Hospice therapy cat Tom holds hand of deceased veteran Edwin Gehlert
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Why are hospice cats effective and beneficial? Why aren’t there more of them? Hospice management are perhaps a little reluctant to consider adopting a cat in case some patients or staff complain but when they do take the plunge it works out brilliantly based on what I read.

This is certainly what happened at Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center. This is in America, of course. I haven’t found a hospice cat in the UK, yet. Is there one?

When Edwin Gehlert, a WWII veteran, passed away, at his bedside was his wife, daughter, son-in-law, a nurse and Tom the ginger hospice cat. The picture heading the page is of him and Tom. It is a drawing converted from the photograph and the moment Edwin died and Tom “held his hand“.

A “hospice cat” really adds a warmth and homeliness to a place which, no matter how well run, is still all about death and dying. The domestic cat adds soul to a home and a hospice should be like a home. I believe that this is what is behind the benefits of having a cat in a hospice.

I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.” – Jean Cocteau (see cat quotes).

Whenever, I read about terminally ill people who want to die they always remark that they’d rather die in their own bed in their own home. This is why they avoid going to Dignitas in Switzerland (a place where it is legal to assist in the death of a person who wants to die). Dying people need comfort through familiarity because dying is frightening.

A hospice needs to recreate the warmth and emotional comfort of home. A domestic cat can do that. For me, that is a major reason why the cat is so good at playing a supporting role as part of the medical team in a hospice.

“It felt like coming home, the way the room was set up, the way Tom was in there…”

Tom a hospice cat
Tom a hospice cat – Photo: REBECCA BARNETT, The Roanoke Times

Tom is considered part of the team. You may remember Oscar a cat living in Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, United States who instinctively knows when a patient is dying and provides companionship and comfort. We are told Tom has a similar skill.

In fact Oscar’s story inspired the staff at Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center to adopt Tom from a local rescue center. I wonder how they selected Tom? Was his coat color and type a factor?

Tom turned up at Edwin Gehlert’s room in a timely manner. Gehlert’s daughter believes that Tom’s appearance at time when her father was dying was not a coincidence. It was “beyond a coincidence in my eyes” she says.

What is this sixth sense that cats seem to have which allows them to sense things we can’t sense? Mark a local veterinarian says that animals have compassion. He also says:

“I’ve been practicing 23 years and there’s an innate ability in certain animals that allows them to recognize people in their final stages. I don’t have a great explanation why that is. But when we have an animal in its last stages at the clinic, you’ll see it comforted by other animals.”

Some say Tom is a godsend! I like that. It’s like God sent Tom to us to help people on their way to a better world.

Original story

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8 thoughts on “Hospice Therapy Cat TOM”

  1. I’m not surprised in the least. My mom’s cat Fluffy always avoided everyone but mom, unless they were sad. She always came to my lap and insisted I pet her when I was sad. It always amazed me. She was a mean cat at times, but so gentle and, yes, a comfort in time of need. Cats are intune. They sense what is going on. It is an amazing, compassionate thing. It makes me happy to be alive!

  2. I think its a beautiful idea and makes perfect sense. Like Ruth I also think that more care homes and Hospices here should have a cat; it was simply lovely to read how Ruth’s mom’s cat made her last moments so peaceful. Sadly because a lot of care homes are now private and are run for profit the owners wouldn’t allow a cat because it would eat into the profit (I’ve had first hand experience of this) so its a shame but thats how it appears

      • You are right Michael there’s that as well. I also think people just see the pitfalls and none of the benefits and with Health and Safety Protocol at the fore front of everything they just see the dangers.

  3. It would be good if cats were part of Hospices here, they can bring great comfort to dying people.
    Our late mother came home from hospital after surgery found she had liver cancer, which had been spreading undiagnosed by doctors. She was so ill that her last 10 days were spent in bed. Our ginger cat Felix stayed with her, only popping outside a couple of times a day, until the night she died. She was a great cat lover and I’m sure his closeness gave her peace and comfort.

    • That’s a tender loving cat story Ruth. I really do believe that cats should be employed far more in hospices and even sections of hospitals. There are issues such as caring for the cat and spreading disease etc. but I feel that the fears and concerns are overrated. It works and Tom is an excellent example.

  4. I so agree! When my Mother was in the hospital dirung her illness, there was a “pet therapy” day in the hospital. I took one of my cats (aspecial needs girl I had at the time because she adored my Mom), to the hospital one night to see my Mom. It’s unbelievable the changes an animal makes to someone in the hospital. My Aunt (my Mom’s sister & my godmother) had her dog come visit her at one time while she was in the same hospital. Both my Aunt & Mother are long since gone, but I truly believe that anipals should be part of a patient’s healing process — whether in a hospital or a nursing home (provided there are no allergy problems). I know my cats are all the therapy I need! No matter what kind of day (in my case night at work), when I get home my “welcoming committee” is waiting for me and all my troubles, thoughts whatever, just melt away, and the love is unconditional — and I can truly feel it and God through them telling me “everything will be all right Mom”. . . ♥♥♥♥♥


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