Seniors program offers new adoption avenues for older cats

A unique program operating in nursing homes and retirement villages is giving the hope of a new home to some of Melbourne’s most vulnerable moggies.

A Cat Protection Society of Victoria (CPSV) initiative offers a ‘cat cuddling’ session to nursing home residents, with proven health benefits for participants and new adoption opportunities for some of the refuge’s senior cats.

“Older cats are traditionally more difficult to home,” said the program’s manager, Shelter Team Leader Jacqui Foley. “This initiative provides a new adoption avenue for these cats.”

Launched in 2017, more than 50 of the Society’s ‘Seniors to Seniors’ sessions have been held in homes and villages over the past two years, Jacqui said.

“I absolutely love seeing the smiles on residents’ faces when I brings the cats in for a cuddle,” she said. “When these connections lead to a cat adoption, it’s the icing on the cake,” she added.

The program has a special place in Jacqui’s heart, as her own father passed away in recent years in a nursing home.

“Going into a home can be very confronting – you don’t have the same lifestyle or community that you used to have,” she said.

“Animals can have a relaxing and calming affect you when you’re feeling stressed or unhappy.

“Just patting them and feeling their fur lets you take a step outside of what’s going on in your life. They’re good for the soul.”

Lifestyle co-ordinator at Deloraine Aged Care in Greensborough (a suburb in Melbourne’s north east), Mellie Hudson, has introduced cat visits in addition to dogs, as pet therapy.

“We know pet therapy brings residents out of their shells, because we’ve been having dog visits for more than 10 years,” Ms Hudson said.

“We thought the cat visits would be a hit, but the program been more successful than we could ever have imagined,” she said.

Visits now occur every four to six weeks, with about 15 residents taking part in each session. During the visits, the cat either sits on their lap or, for those who are too frail, the cat is held for them to stroke.

According to research both nationally and internationally, pets can have an enormously positive impact on individual’s wellbeing. People with pets have been known to live longer, and gain both physical and emotional health benefits. These can include a reduction in the stress-related ‘fight or flight’ response and an increase in the brain’s levels of serotonin – a hormone which helps regulate mood, appetite, digestion, sleep and memory.