Piglet the Therapy Sphynx
How I came to adopt Piglet:
I wanted a Sphynx cat for a long time, as I fell in love with their friendly personalities and silly antics after visiting the cats at a Sphynx cattery in Denver. However, I really wanted to get a rescue Sphynx or one needing relocation, not one from a breeder. One day, back in 2008, I posted a message on a Sphynx rescue group forum stating that I was looking for a Sphynx rescue to adopt and within a day, a lady from Estes Park, CO who rescues Sphynx cats from shelters emailed me, stating that she was looking for a new home for one of her six Sphynx cats. So I drove to Estes Park, met the lady and her cats, adopted Piglet, and took her back home with me to Colorado Springs. The lady in Estes Park originally got Piglet a year prior from the Teller County Humane Society; she told me that Piglet was dumped there by a woman (I suspect, a backyard breeder) going through a divorce.
How Piglet got started in animal-assisted therapy:
Soon after I adopted Piglet, I noticed that she was unusually friendly and well-socialized for a cat. I took Piglet to a party my mother was having at her house and Piglet was the life of the party!
She scoped out the room like a human, visited with everybody, and was having a great time! I’ve never seen a cat act like that! I would also take Piglet everywhere on car trips and she was always very calm, gregarious, and adaptable, no matter where we went. Piglet got along really well with both people and other animals, even dogs. Then one evening, I was watching a show on Animal Planet about therapy animals and I thought, “I bet Piglet could do that!” So I did a little research and found out that the American Humane Association (AHA), who had their headquarters in Denver, CO, had an animal-assisted therapy training program, so I got myself and Piglet signed up for it right away!
I went to a two-day animal-assisted therapy training workshop sponsored by AHA and after that, Piglet and I trained with an experienced therapy dog team to get prepared for the Pet Partners’ (formerly the Delta Society) evaluation process. After a couple of months, Piglet and I went through their evaluation to get certiﬁed and registered. Piglet’s temperament, aptitude, obedience and relational skills were tested. She was put through a mock trial run to see how she reacted to loud noises, distracting toys, clumsy petting and awkward holding. Another skill is to walk past a dog and not react. Piglet, being the super-smart Sphynx that she is, passed with ﬂying colors of course: she got the “Complex” rating on her ﬁrst run! The Complex rating is an advanced level that means the therapy animal is able to handle difﬁcult or challenging environments. Piglet took to therapy work like a duck to water; she seemed to know right away what her responsibilities were and would immediately get into “therapy mode” whenever I’d put her therapy vest and harness on her. To this day, Piglet is one of only 4 registered therapy cats in the State of Colorado and the only feline American Red Cross volunteer in Colorado and possibly the USA!
Piglet’s Animal-Assisted Therapy Work:
Piglet has done a variety of different AAT jobs since we ﬁrst started with our volunteer work in 2009. Piglet and I recently did a three-hour session at a health clinic in Denver where children were getting vaccinations. We regularly visit Evans Hospital at Fort Carson, CO through auspices of the American Red Cross, as well as the seniors at the Brookdale Village at Skyline, which is an assisted living center in Colorado Springs. Piglet also volunteers for the “Paws to Read” program at the Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs. Piglet has also worked with disabled children at the Fletcher Miller School and the Night Owls Program in Denver, as well as mentally-challenged adults at the Morning Star Adult Daycare Center in Aurora. She’s provided comfort and companionship to grieving military families through the Fallen Heroes Families Program at Ft. Carson, CO and has participated in the families’ group therapy sessions. Piglet has been an ambassador for many American Humane Association events in Denver and Colorado Springs, most notably at Ft. Carson Army Base and Peterson AFB.
The event we participated in that I am most proud of, however, is the work we did (through the American Red Cross) with the evacuees of the Waldo Canyon wildﬁres recently in Colorado Springs. Piglet spent over four hours in the hot sun and 100 degree F heat providing love, purrs, and good cheer to distressed and displaced children and adults at a local Red Cross shelter. While we were there, Piglet caught the attention of the Channel 13 news team and she and I were both interviewed on the spot on live TV for the work we were doing at the shelter.
Why Piglet and I keep doing AAT work:
Despite the oftentimes rigorous criteria and the many challenges to be an AAT therapy team, Piglet and I keep doing this work because it is the most rewarding volunteer work one can ever do! Also, how many volunteers can say that they get to help people with their very best (Sphynx) friend?
I would like to share (brieﬂy) a couple of heartwarming stories:
At one visit at Evans Army hospital, Piglet and I went into a room where a lady was recuperating from surgery. Because of HIPAA regulations, I’m not supposed to ask patients why they are in the hospital, so I have no idea what their malady is; we just provide the therapy. I placed Piglet on the bed and she went straight to the lady’s chest and sat there and purred. I noticed that the lady started crying, so I asked her if she was okay and if she wanted Piglet off her chest. The lady shook her head and said, no, she was crying because she just had heart surgery and Piglet somehow “knew that” by going to the very spot where she was hurting!
At another visit at Evans, Piglet and I were on the Mom and Baby Ward. While we were there, a couple of nurses came up to us and requested our help with a young mother who was having a very difﬁcult labor. When I got to her room, I put Piglet on the bed as usual and Piglet went straight to the young mother’s belly and laid there purring to her little one still inside! After a few minutes, the mother and (unborn) baby relaxed and the nurses were able to help the mother proceed with the delivery.
I have more great stories about the impact Piglet has made with people through AAT...I could share them all day long! Piglet’s helped kids struggling to read gain more conﬁdence in reading, she’s helped seniors with Altzeimers become more alert and lucid and even gain a few lost memories, she’s helped mentally-challenged adults make connections with other people and their staff. She’s been an ambassador of good-will to military families and disaster victims. Needless to say, I am so very proud of Piglet for her selﬂess service to the people in our community.
Even though Piglet is now a geriatric cat and one who is HCM positive, I hope to be doing animal-assisted therapy work with her for at least a few more years to come, God willing. The person that Piglet has rescued the most, however, is me! Before I adopted Piglet, I was a self-absorbed, depressed person who had many health problems and had lost her will to live. I had few friends and very little self-conﬁdence in myself. Since Piglet came into my life, I have grown to be a happy, vibrant, more loving and spiritual person who is outwardly focused to help people in my community and on the planet. I have many wonderful friends now (especially in the Sphynx groups!) and connections with many people locally and across the world! My spiritual teacher and mentor, who is a Native American shaman from the Chippewa tribes and is well-versed in Native American legends, medicine, and astronomy, told me when she ﬁrst met Piglet that Piglet is not “from here” (meaning Earth) and that she is really a “light being from the stars”. She said that Piglet came down here to help the people of the Earth heal, grow in love, and ascend to the next level of consciousness. Now I don’t know if all that is true, but I do believe Piglet is a special little Sphynx cat who has given much of herself to the people in our community needing healing, comfort, and companionship in an oftentimes scary and dysfunctional world.
How to Become a Therapy Team:
Unfortunately, the American Humane Association has, as of 2010, discontinued their animal-assisted therapy program due to lack of funding. However, I would recommend that people interested in AAT work check the national Pet Partners website (www.petpartners.org) to see if there are any local Pet Partners AAT chapters in their area that provides training and certiﬁcation testing.