By David Dickson
Several regular volunteers at Best Friends have just been given the chance to make a big difference in the lives of some very special cats. And, they're running with it.
The cats in question have limited or no use of their back legs. Best Friends cat manager Michelle Warfle was inspired by the progress Beemer the cat made through physical therapy. Beemer was formerly featured on the Guardian Angel section of the Best Friends website. (View his story here for details.)
What's good for the goose ...
Michelle hoped these other cats might benefit from physical therapy as well, specifically with stretching and strength-training. While caregivers could indeed provide such therapy, Michelle knew it could also be hard for them to fit it in on a regular basis with their already-busy schedules.
At the same time, there were a handful of volunteers looking for additional ways to help the animals at Best Friends. As such, the new volunteer-based cat physical therapy program was born. It was a perfect fit.
The first steps
Four volunteers stepped up to the plate. They received basic training on massage and range-of-motion stretching, and have been working with several cats for three weeks now. "The volunteers have really been getting into it," says Michelle.
The initial four cats picked for physical therapy were Rio, Eliana, Hermes and Tiny Tim. In no time at all, however, Rio bowed out of the program by finding a fabulous home. (In Rio's new home, though, her person can continue the physical therapy on an even more consistent basis. Double win!)
Local volunteers Betsy Anderson, Colleen Hart, and Wendi and Ed Paschal come once a week. Accordingly, the three cats in the program receive physical therapy three times every week.
It's been a learning process for all involved. For example, Colleen had a mini breakthrough with Eliana early on that has been extremely useful to all the volunteers ever since. You see, Eliana hadn't exactly been thrilled at having her back legs handled during Colleen's first two visits.
Then Colleen changed tactics and brought Eliana on an outing first. It turned out to be a real secret weapon. "I took her outside for a walk and she was like putty in my hands," Colleen says. "I was able to massage her feet and legs for 30 minutes and she just purred." Nowadays, outdoor walks with the aid of a sling have become a regular part of their efforts with Eliana, which makes her one happy feline.
Boys will be boys
Tiny Tim presented a bit of a challenge because he's so fidgety. His nickname is "Happy Feet," on account of those back legs of his constantly zipping and bouncing around. He can't put weight on them, but he sure likes to move them around a lot. It was hard enough to give this little ball of energy a scratch behind the ears, let alone a massage.
Ed and Wendi, however, found that if one of them dangled a toy in front of Tiny Tim, the other person could work on his back legs while he was distracted. Sneaky, but effective.
Hermes is another moving target. All three cats are young (under two years old), and the boys in particular seem to want to zoom and dash around at all hours. "It keeps us on our toes," Betsy says about working with the cats. "They're fun!" With Hermes, treats, toys, and outside trips also seem to help him stay a tad more focused.
A promising start
With only a few weeks under its belt, the new physical therapy program is too new to really see any significant progress. And yet the cats already look forward to their visits. "They all enjoy the extra attention," says Wendi.
The four volunteers coordinate together, sharing tips and combining talents and insights for the benefit of the cats. "It's something that I can do that will benefit those cats, to help them get ready to be adopted," says Betsy. Adds Wendi, "It's a great opportunity. We're just so thrilled to be a part of it."
This new program certainly has room for more helping hands! If you're in a position to do some long-term volunteering at the Sanctuary and you'd like to help out in this great new program, please contact the Sanctuary volunteer department at email@example.com, or call (435) 644-2001, ext. 4219.
Photos by Molly Wald