суббота, 10 ноября 2012 г.

Tapped for Service

By Nancy Kucik

Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.
~James Matthew Barrie

When I walked into the pet superstore that Saturday, all I wanted to do was buy cat litter. I just made a tiny detour to visit the adoptable shelter animals on display. That's when Laser — a five-month-old Siamese kitten — reached out of his cage and tapped me on the shoulder. Little did I know that he was going to change my life.
I took Laser home, and he continued to be extraordinarily outgoing and friendly. When I learned about a local animal-assisted therapy volunteer group, I knew it was for us. What could be better than doing volunteer work with your pet? Although cats are a minority of the pets involved in animal-assisted therapy — the vast majority are dogs — Laser turned out to be perfectly suited for that line of work.

People often ask me what Laser actually does during his therapy visits. His job consists mostly of cuddling. We regularly visit a children's hospital, the university psychiatric geriatric unit, and a local nursing home. Whenever my schedule permits, we also go to the palliative care unit at the university and other facilities. Even after volunteering for twelve years, I am still astounded by the small miracles that animals can work for people who are suffering or in pain.

Once a severely burned teenager with much of his body wrapped in gauze was sitting in a wheelchair in the lobby of the children's hospital. Laser sat on his lap, but was not satisfied with sitting just on top of the blanket — he tunneled underneath it. That was unusual for Laser, and the young man gave a big grin. His nurses later said that it was the first time he had smiled since he had been in the hospital.

Another time a hospice patient asked for a cat visitor. Laser visited her every week for three months, and even as she grew progressively weaker, the woman always perked up when Laser arrived. She loved it when he curled up on her bed so she could pet him and talk to him. We visited her for the last time just two days before she died. Even though she was in and out of consciousness, she smiled when I put her hand on Laser's back, and when we left, she whispered, "Thank you."

One woman we visit at the nursing home eagerly looks forward to Laser's visits. She always tells the same story about how Laser visited her for the first time right after her shoulder surgery, and how she made an effort to use that arm to pet him. Every time we visit her she holds Laser on her lap, rocking him and speaking softly in his ear so that only he can hear.

Along with cuddling, Laser likes to wrap his front paws around the neck of anyone who holds him. So while visiting teenagers on the psychiatric unit of the children's hospital one day, I told them that Laser's specialty was giving hugs. To my surprise, they all lined up wanting hugs and Laser willingly obliged. Afterward, one young lady told me, "That felt so good. It's been so long since I've had a hug."

I am grateful every day for the privilege I have of seeing Laser touch lives and make people happy. And I think how different — and less fulfilling — my life would be if Laser had never tapped me on the shoulder that fateful day.

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