After Nancy and Mike lost their cat of 20+ years, it took them a while to decide to open their hearts to another kitty. Then, one day Nancy spotted a cute little calico face peering at her from the Carlsbad Animal Shelter web site.
When we went to see her, we were so impressed with how friendly she was, said Nancy. The shelter attendant lifted her out of her cage and she was already purring. When she was placed in my arms, she seemed to just settle in. Then, Mike looked into her eyes and we were goners.
At that point, Moorea (Moo-ray-a), named for an island near Tahiti that Nancy and Mike love, was estimated to be two to four years old. She hadn’t been spayed; but had clearly been loved. Several days later, I went back to bring her home. I had a carrier with me and she stretched her paw out the carrier door so we could hold paws all the way home.
Nancy retired in 2004 from a career in education and shortly after her retirement, her father went into a nursing home. While there, he was visited by a therapy dog, and Nancy was so impressed to see how much those visits meant to her father. Eventually she decided to bring Moorea in to the facility. At that facility, they had known only therapy dogs so Moorea was quite a novelty, and, from that first visit, other residents asked that the cat visit with them. Soon Moorea had quite a following and was loving every minute of her visits. It was obvious this was a cat that enjoyed people. She loved cuddling, snuggling and sitting on laps.
With Moorea so obviously suited for pet assisted therapy, Nancy looked around for a pet therapy group to join. She settled on Love on a Leash ( LOAL) because they were one of the few she found that didn’t limit their membership to dogs only.
Today, Moorea, a member of the San Diego LOAL, visits nursing homes, hospice facilities, and assisted living homes. She knows the route to and from every place she visits and will speak right up if Nancy or Mike make a “wrong” turn. If I have to stop at the grocery store on the way home from a visit, that means a left turn off the freeway instead of our usual right turn. Moorea immediately goes into her Lassie act, bumping my arm, mewing, and trying to tell me I’m going the wrong way.
Moorea has other dog-like qualities as well. For instance, when the doorbell rings at Nancy’s and Mike’s house, Moorea is usually first to the door. She is just sure there is someone on the other side come to visit her, and she wants to welcome them in.
Moorea also knows the rooms in each facility that she regularly visits. If Mike or Nancy stop to talk to the receptionist, Moorea gets impatient and will often jump out of her stroller and race up the hall and around the corner to see a favorite resident. She will also climb out of her stroller when wheeled close to a bed or wheelchair to snuggle with a resident. She has different approaches for each person. With some people she tucks up beside them and with others she’ll cuddle on their chest or at their feet. She is also very good at knowing just where someone is hurting or has had surgery. Once, when visiting a friend recovering from knee replacement surgery, Moorea lay on top of the machine that was giving the recovering knee an icing treatment. Similarly, she has known when someone has had hip surgery and which hip was the effected one.
Moorea also makes private home visits to hospice patients upon request. Several years ago she got a call to visit a ninety-two year old man whose dying wish was to pat a cat. He was a retired lieutenant colonel and a very stoic man, said Nancy, but he and Moorea just clicked. A lot of his family were in SC so I took pictures of our visits to send them. I know seeing him holding and cuddling Moorea meant a great deal to them.
Earlier this month, Moorea was inducted into the CA Veterinarian Medical Association Hall of Fame. The annual award and Hall of Fame induction goes to an animal voted as best demonstrating the bond between animals and humans. Usually the honoree is a dog. It’s quite unusual for a cat to be chosen so Nancy and Mike were very honored and excited. To receive her award and attend the Gala Award Ceremony, Moorea flew to San Francisco. Once there she donned her tiara and posed patiently for the paparazzi for twenty minutes. Moorea is not without her diva side. (see slide show)
The tiny tiara was given to Moorea just prior to her leaving for the award ceremony at a luncheon given by some of the teachers and counselors with whom Nancy had worked. Moorea received a congratulatory card and that very tiny tiara. The luncheon had nothing to do with me, Nancy said. I just went along because Moorea can’t reach the pedals on the car.
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If you would like to contact Nancy and Moorea: Tiara Cat
Meet Lee’s therapy dog Frosty: Frosty’s Page
Help children understand nursing homes: Nurse Frosty
Read all of Lee’s articles: Pet Therapy Examiner