Pauline Schott was happy to see Spectrum Health Hospice volunteer Amy Hansen.
But the 93-year-old’s eyes really lit up when she spied Cricket, a 22-pound orange tabby who is the organization’s first feline therapy animal.
Cricket happily snuggled on a recliner beside Schott for an hour of cuddling and petting.
“Sweet little kitty,” Schott crooned, rubbing her fingers through his luxurious fur. “Pretty, pretty kitty.”
“He loves you, Pauline,” Hansen said.
“Oh yes, he does,” she replied.
Over the next hour, Schott reminisced about her life: Growing up near downtown Grand Rapids as one of 11 children. Her father, who worked for the railroad. The treats he carried home in his lunch box for the children.
And—several times—she told the story of her cat, a tabby named Tommy with the same coloring as Cricket.
“I think Pauline smiles the whole time she has Cricket,” said Hansen. “The first time I brought her for a visit, she sang to him.”
‘He looks forward to all the loving’
Cricket has been volunteering in tandem with Hansen for about five years.
“No matter whose lap I put him on, he finds a way to cuddle in,” Hansen said. “It’s like he knows what’s expected of him.”
Cricket began his training as a kitty, with plenty of car rides and socialization to get him accustomed to people.
He has a calm, relaxed temperament and seems to thrive on attention.
“The more patients I give him to, the more comfortable he gets,” Hansen said. “He looks forward to all the loving.”
Cricket also enjoys being with children and has been part of activities at libraries, 4-H groups and Cub Scouts.
He has his own web page, cricketvisits.com, and he’s a bit of a local celebrity.
Cricket was even featured in an Art Prize painting by Belding artist Larry Lathrop, Healing Paws, to raise awareness of the benefits of therapy pets, which can help reduce blood pressure, improve overall cardiovascular health and release endorphins for a calming effect.
Hansen is using that painting, along with photographs and stories she is writing, in a children’s coffee table book she is writing about Cricket and the role of therapy cats.
She also heads the local Love on a Leash chapter, certifying and training pets as therapy animals.
A very flexible program
Spectrum Health Hospice volunteer coordinator Yvonne Elliott said volunteers play an important role in meeting the needs of patients as they approach the end of life.
Some, like Hansen, take on a variety of roles.
In addition to bringing Cricket to patients, she has provided caregiver relief, played the harp, helped patients write their “life story” and provided Eleventh Hour support, which means being with a patient in the days and minutes before death.
The Spectrum Health Hospice program has been serving the community for more than 10 years, and volunteers from all walks of life help make it a success.
“We are grateful for volunteers like Amy who seek out creative, individualized and intentional ways to brighten their patients’ days,” Elliott said. “For Pauline, that comes in the form of a fluffy, orange therapy cat named Cricket—a furry friend who encourages her to open up, share herself and share her memories in a way that is special and meaningful.”