Feline visits: The 'purrfect' therapy for Regina seniors

Regina volunteers are connecting energetic cats with seniors who live in local care homes.

Volunteers bring cats to visit local seniors every Saturday

Allison Matheson spends her Saturdays at local care homes, allowing residents to visit Humane Society pets. (CBC News/Alex Soloducha)

Spending time petting a feline friend is more than cuddles, claws and curiosity — it can be therapeutic, according to the Regina Humane Society. 

Allison Matheson has been volunteering at the animal shelter since 2016. In her time with the organization, she's banked 250 hours.

Every Saturday, she takes an animal — usually a cat — to visit a senior home as part of the pet therapy program.
Allison Matheson (right) takes part in the pet therapy program every Saturday. (CBC News/Alex Soloducha)

Staff at the humane society assess incoming animals and determine which ones will do well on the visits, depending on how outgoing and cuddly they are.

Matheson said the visits benefit the seniors as well as the cats.

"It lets them socialize a bit with the residents and then the residents... it allows them to have a visit with a cat and they really enjoy that," she said. "A lot of them don't have pets anymore and they really miss that in their lives so it provides that kind of companionship that they're missing."
Carl the cat exploring Parksview Villa on Saturday. (CBC News/Alex Soloducha)

Through the program, Matheson said stray cats become more adoptable because they gain experience around people.

"It's never the same cat twice, which is good because then that means they have been adopted," she said.

Gail Fischer is the recreational coordinator at Parkview Villa, where Matheson took three-year-old tabby Carl on Jan. 20.

She said she's seen huge benefits since the program came to the home in 2009.

"Even for the residents we have who can no longer verbalize, quite often they will be able to speak one or two words because they're quite overcome when they see a pet come in here," she said.
Carl the cat visiting with residents at Parksview Villa. (CBC News/Alex Soloducha)

Carl was a hit among residents, for the most part. 

One lady asked his named and laughed, saying, "I've never heard of a cat named Carl."

The seniors in the common room watched Carl roam around with smiles on their faces. 

A few minutes later, the same lady asked his name again and followed up with the same joke, getting just as big a laugh. 
Carl the cat is three years old and is looking for his forever home. (CBC News/Alex Soloducha)

Fischer said what the Humane Society volunteers do is extremely important.

"They come in the dead of winter when it's blizzarding, they come when it's forty below, so we really appreciate that," she said. "It's just dedication."

Finding families

During adoption events at the Humane Society, Matheson also facilitates pre-adoption visits. These visits give families a chance to decide if a pet is the right fit for them.

"It's very gratifying," she said. "A lot of families out there are looking for a forever friend."

Matheson said she remembers working with a family of new Canadians from Syria that had promised their daughter a cat.

"She was just so emotional. It was impactful for her," Matheson said. "I think they had said once they got here and got settled she'd be able to get a pet again and she was in tears.

"It was just wonderful to be able to facilitate that adoption for them."