A call for cats on campus

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A cat on a leash, walking outside the Riddell Centre.
One shudders at the thought of the efforts needed to put a cat on a leash. Nazeemah Noorally

A need for feline friends is being felt 

As the University of Regina (U of R) welcomes everyone back for the Winter 2024 semester, it’s like a fresh start on campus. The air might be chilly with winter fully settling in. Students have different ideas about what could make campus life more vibrant. Some want better food and comfier study spots, but I have a unique wish: therapy cats. 

Imagine having these furry friends around, not just in any spot but right in the heart of the campus. Picture therapy cats bringing comfort and joy to students and faculty members at the Research and Innovation Centre building, the Riddell Centre, and other cozy campus spots. It’s not a typical campus wish, but it could be amazing.  

Therapy cats, like therapy dogs, are trained to provide emotional comfort to those in need. While dogs are often celebrated as “man’s best friend,” therapy cats play an equally valuable role. Despite some stereotypes surrounding cats, such as aloofness and independent natures, cats possess distinctive qualities that can make them effective furry companions to humans.  

Petting a cat has been shown to lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, with a 2019 study by Washington State University revealing that its stressed university participants interacting with cats experienced the greatest stress reduction. It has also been shown that spending time with cats naturally releases endorphins and oxytocin, some relaxation hormones, that not only boost mood and increase positive emotions but are also linked to positive heart health and lower blood pressure in stressful situations. 

However, being a therapy cat necessitates a specific temperament and possibly some training. The cat-human bond is a crucial one for therapy cat training.  

Haylee Bergeland, a certified professional dog trainer and the Founder and Executive Director at Iowa Human-Animal Bond Society, said “A handler knows their cat’s body language and preferences, advocates for [their] welfare, and can ensure visits are safe and pleasant for everyone.” 

Certified teams of pet therapists can train therapy cats to recognize emotional signals, respond with love and affection, and avoid aggression. While the idea of therapy cats might seem unconventional at first glance, it aligns with a broader movement recognizing the profound beneficial impact of animal companionship on mental health.  

In recent years, mostly therapy dogs have become a staple on campuses worldwide, providing students with moments of reprieve from the pressures of academic life. The integration of therapy cats at U of R would not only align with this global trend but also add a feline charm to the campus’ well-being initiatives. 

Therapy cats can engage in personalized one-on-one sessions, creating a supportive environment for individuals to connect on a personal level. Renowned for their soothing purrs and gentle demeanor, they provide emotional comfort, thus promoting calmness.  

Tailoring interventions to specific needs, therapy cats adeptly assist those facing anxiety, depression, and academic stress, thus adjusting their interaction style to individual preferences. With the versatility in different settings, including the university campus, they can offer valuable support to the U of R community. 

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