‘Penguin the pussy cat: The healing power of pets for seniors’

Aug 08, 2021
Source: Stock Photo/Getty Images

Penguin is my cat. He came to me in August 2020, from an animal rescue home. He hadn’t had an auspicious start to life. I believe he was a stray kitten; then found a home with a family who must have decided that having a kitten wasn’t for them; was re-adopted to another family who discovered (as renters) they weren’t allowed to have an animal, so back he went to the rescue home.(He’s been named ‘Andy’ and ‘Pineapple’ over the 4.5 years before he came to me.)

Penguin is a black and white, medium-length-haired, male cat. He’s very regal looking (my neighbour has nicknamed him ‘Mr Majestic’) and when he first came to me, he was so unsure (I have the bite marks to prove it). However, over the past 10 months he’s discovered that this is his ‘forever’ loving home. Boy does he take advantage of that!

I’ve had cats before, but none so demanding as him! Cats are a law unto themselves. They determine when (and what) you feed them, stroke them, sleep wherever they choose, and have no respect for your sleep cycle. They have the upper hand, like it or not.

Unless he’s sleeping, he drives me insane. If I go to the bathroom, he comes too; if I walk into the kitchen, he comes too; when I go to bed, he comes too, and his favourite activity is to pester the hell out me when I’m writing at the computer. Is this ‘bonding’?! Presently, he is lying like ‘king shit’ between my keyboard and the computer screen. (I’m feeling a bit crowded.)

Then we get to his choice of diet. Penguin loves anything in gravy; does not like sardines in any of his tinned food; adores tuna in spring water; doesn’t mind a bit of ham/cream cheese/bacon and, recently he ate some of the leftover rice vermicelli noodles I’d put out.

Truth is, I wouldn’t want to be without him. I’ve used some unmentionable phrases when trying to dissuade him from walking all over my keyboard (none of which he takes one iota of notice). Jack, the budgie, is accepting of him but, I did have to relocate his cage to hanging from the ceiling of the front verandah. Penguin got a little too curious about Jack when his cage was inside.

Where would we be without our pets? Even more so, when we find ourselves living alone — getting older by the day, suffering ill-health, and even more isolated from our family and friends thanks to coronavirus.

There are days when I don’t meet, face-to-face, with another living soul. I was talking with a friend recently, who has had to relocate during the pandemic. He lives alone (like I do) and would have found the move more stressful had it not been for the company of his cat.

As a child, and with my own children, having a pet taught responsibility and how to care for something other than ourselves. When my children were small, I went to the toilet closing the door behind me. Within seconds of taking my pew, the hands of two little boys and the dog’s paw were poking under the gap of the door!

On Tuesdays, once a fortnight, a physiotherapist comes to my home to help me with my mobility issues. We got to talking about the therapeutic value of owning a pet. He was in agreement, not just for people in my situation, but for sick children and adults alike. It reminded me of a recent television advertisement where a dog is taken to a children’s hospital to visit a sick little girl. Many hospitals and aged care facilities utilise pet therapy to aid in the recovery of an unwell patient.

We mightn’t be able to get out and socialise much at the moment, but I’m sure Penguin has played his part in keeping my stress and blood pressure low during these difficult times. I feel anyone who has ever had a pet knows how much happiness they can bring.

Do you have a pet? How have they helped you?

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