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A purr-fect match: Cat therapy brings joy to ill patients

Studies indicate therapy animals in medical settings decrease perceptions of pain, improve recovery rates and more.
A purr-fect match: Cat therapy brings joy to ill patients
Posted at 3:19 PM, Jan 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-02 15:20:45-05

For Lola-Pearl the cat, a birth defect left her with only three legs, but also a singularly spectacular mission.

"The goal of a therapy animal intervention is to share the love, the warmth of an animal, to assist in whatever treatment objectives already exist for the client or the person receiving the services," said Taylor Chastain Griffin, the national director of animal-assisted interventions advancement at Pet Partners.

Lola-Pearl's owner — or maybe we should call Juanita Mengel Lola's therapist partner — have some things in common.

"I was a traveling nurse and I was a couple of miles from a patient's home in southern Ohio, and a car came around the corner right in the middle of the road and hit mine head on. So it was a motor vehicle accident. It was a drunk driver," said Mengel. 

That 2006 accident cost the Amanda, Ohio, resident her left leg. Both she and the feline, who she rescued from an animal shelter, wear artificial body parts to get around.

"Got right in a prosthetic and took off. So I'm one of the lucky ones as far as that goes," said Mengel. 

A veterinary surgeon removed Lola-Pearl's leg in order for the cat to be mobile, and she now wears a prosthetic as well.

"Well, my friend in Missouri at the rescue, said somebody brought her in. She was only about maybe 4 weeks old, if she was that. And her back legs were all twisted from a birth defect," said Mengel. 

Today, the duo is one of some 200 therapy cat teams registered through Pet Partners. The nonprofit based in Washington state arranges visits to hospitals, nursing homes and schools to aid in therapy.

"It's a really rewarding experience. You know, I get just as much out of it as the people that I visit," Mengel said. 

Pet Partners cites studies indicating therapy animals in medical settings can help patients with pain, recovery and stress. At a recent limb-loss support group meeting near Dayton, the Associated Press captured Mengel as she pushed Lola-Pearl around in a stroller, bringing smiles to everyone all around. Pet Partners registers nine different species as therapy animals, from rats to llamas. For Juanita Mengel, the match with Lola-Pearl was, shall we say, purr-fect? 

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