The status quo of dog being man’s best friend is under protest by this cat.
Sputnik The Therapy Cat
Sputnik, a three-year-old female cat, is curious, likes being pet, and loves attention.
“When she was three-days-old she came to live with my family with a foster family,” said Sonya Stowers, Sputnik’s owner. “Her birth mother had abandoned her, and she had been brought here to the shelter. Another mother cat, who [had] babies of her own, took in Sputnik and a couple of other kittens. And that whole group of family, a mom and six kittens, came and stayed with us as fosters.”
Space Themed Names
Stowers has fostered hundreds of kittens from the Naperville Area Humane Society, and said she typically gives them themed names. For Sputnik and her family, she chose space as her inspiration.
“This is Cassini, Artemis, Hubble, Sputnik, Apollo, and Gemini,” said Stowers. “And on the next page this is her mom, Luna,”
Sputnik’s name is fitting as she quite the explorer, making a bed out of our camera equipment, finding a corner to lie down on, and checking out what’s inside this bin.
When it was time to find Sputnik’s “furever” home, she didn’t want to leave Stowers’ side.
“I was taking pictures of her to bring her back to the shelter to put her up for adoption and she reached out to me like that, and we felt that was her saying ‘could you please adopt so I can stay here’,” said Stowers.
Fast-forward a couple of months and Stowers remembered the Naperville Area Humane Society was in search of a cat to help out with their Pawstive Pet Therapy program.
As mentioned before, Sputnik loves attention, which is a key characteristic for good therapy animals, according to Lauren Lonski the Pet Therapy Coordinator at the Naperville Area Humane Society.
“Sometimes owners just see how much their animals enjoy the interaction with people like Sonya and Sputnik,” said Lonski. “She noticed how much Sputnik craved that attention. It’s really up to [the] owner to understand their animal and work on some of those basic skills to prepare them for the visits.”
Disparity Between Therapy Cat And Dogs
There are 102 active therapy teams at the Humane Society. Only six are cat therapy teams, with the rest being dogs.
Therapy cats have to be comfortable with being on a harness. In general, Lonski said therapy animals have to be comfortable in quiet or loud environments, and have to have a special bond with their owner since they’ll be working as a team on therapy visits.
After four months of training Sputnik and Stowers were ready to make therapy visits to hospice centers, schools, and other places.
They typically roll up to visits in a customized stroller, which is designed to make it easier to pet Sputnik while she’s chilling and help Stowers maneuver her cat.
The therapy duo was out of commission for a while due to the pandemic. Before the stay-at-home order Sputnik was making five to 15 visits a month.
“So to then suddenly just be at home, and not go anywhere when she was so used to going out, it was really hard for her,” said Stowers. “She didn’t know how to handle that obviously she didn’t understand what was going on. And we couldn’t explain it to her, because how do you explain that to a cat?”
But Sputnik stayed busy, posting to her social media pages and trying her best to uplift her fans’ spirits. The duo also sent out emails with inspiring messages to places she visited.
Back to Work
And after 380 days of not working, Sputnik and Sonya made their triumphant return a couple of weeks ago.
“She let me put on her harness and bandana, because those mean she’s working, and she just happily sat in the car all the way there,” said Stowers. “She did a great job on her visit and then afterwards she behaved like I never seen her behave before. She was so happy, she was bouncing around the house.”
The therapy visits, which typically last about an hour, are great for Sputnik, but also Stowers who enjoys being there for people just as much.
“Helping people brings me joy,” said Stowers. “And I feel it brings her joy as well. The way she trots around the house after a visit and things like that, I think maker her really happy to go and do this for people. It brings as much to us as it gives to the other people.”
The therapy team is a part of I-CAT, which works toward dispelling stereotypes about cats, and providing them with the same opportunities as therapy dogs.
“There’s a lot of people out there who really just need to see a cat,” said Stowers. “There’s cat people, who aren’t do people, and they would rather see a cat. Those people light up when we come in the room.”
Proving anything a dog can do, a cat can do better.
Naperville News 17’s Christian Caniza reports.
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