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 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.