From scared cat to therapy pet

Of all the kittens at the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center recently, Flex was the most timid one of all. As the other kittens bounded about the floor with abandon, greeting every visitor with ease and confidence, Flex hid in a corner, terrified of the world around him.

That could be why Tawnya Stewart didn’t see Flex at first. Tawnya had come to the center one September afternoon with her boyfriend looking to adopt a black kitten. Flex was in his favorite safe place — at the back of a cubby. When she eventually did spot him, she immediately recognized a familiar look: fear.

Adopting a fearful kitten

You see, Tawnya knows all too well what it feels like to be overcome with worry and doubt. For many years, she has dealt with her own anxiety challenges. That day at the adoption center, she found a kindred spirit, and Flex found his forever home.

"When adopters connect with shy or fearful animals, it leads to some of the most heartwarming moments at the adoption center,” says Lawrence Nicolas, Best Friends–Utah adoption and animal care manager. “It was great seeing Flex get adopted, knowing that it was the last day he would ever have to spend afraid.”

Adopt a pet from Best Friends–Utah

Flex the black kitten being held

Safe and secure kitten at home

It didn’t take long for Flex to feel comfortable in Tawnya’s home. Named Flex because he loves playing with the dumbbell charm on the necklace that Tawnya (a bodybuilder) wears, he soon let his guard down to reveal his playful and fun-loving spirit. Flex is also an avid investigator; he bravely presses the buttons on Tawnya’s laptop while she’s working, or paws at the screen on her phone.

And there’s another side to Flex, too. He’s caring and sensitive. In fact, he’s now helping Tawnya let go of her own fears. “Flex and I have significantly helped each other cope, overcome fears, and provide support and love for one another,” says Tawnya. “He senses when I am struggling and often lays on my chest when my anxiety is high.”

Tawnya and Flex the black cat snugglingCat helps others let go of their fears

As a social worker and therapist, Tawnya also understands anxiety issues through her profession. During her career, she has seen how invaluable the love and support of a pet can be for those with anxiety.

One of her next goals is to register Flex as a therapy pet, just as soon as he gets a little older. Already, Flex has accompanied Tawnya to work a few times and enjoys being in public places. He even likes the car rides it takes to get there.

“Flex has brought joy and companionship into my life,” says Tawnya. “I knew from the minute I saw him that he was the cat for me. We have helped each other face our fears. I think, together, we can handle anything.”

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Photos courtesy of Tawnya Stewart