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Sandra Dean – Registered Member

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Mindfulness, using the senses for mental health, Fostering cats, Animals as therapy for mental health, can you help?

April 2013 Titus playing

April 2013 Titus playing

There are many natural things we can do to improve our mental health; exercise, hobbies, socialising, relaxation techniques or learning new coping skills are some examples. Another very helpful experience can be looking after or petting animals.

There are schemes like ‘animal assisted therapy’ where a dog is present to calm or enliven patients or clients. But, aside from the professional links, animals can be like ‘therapy’ for many people – dogs, hamsters, horses, all sorts.

I personally love all animals, but cats are my chosen favourite. You don’t have to own them either, you can foster! Fostering cats is such a wonderful thing to do as there are far too many cats and kittens out there needing homes. As many as possible are taken in by rescue charities and cared for in house or in external catteries. This is great, but paying out for catteries per night is an expensive business and only so many can be taken in at any one time. By fostering, you are housing a cat and allowing the charity to house one more from whatever adversity it is going through. If we say, for example, that a cattery costs a charity £5 per day, per cat, inclusive of food etc, then weigh that up to the price of food and litter per day if the cat were in a foster home, then you can see it is minimal (£30 a month on average or £1 per day). That means a lot more of the charities money can go towards helping more animals and donations are dwindling in some places for many reasons.

MINDFULNESS… Watching a cat rolling on the floor, listening to their purring, stroking their soft fur is wonderful; they are relaxing to watch, relaxing to hear and relaxing to touch and that’s three of our five senses being stimulated. Using the senses is one very simple stress coping skill – if we can stimulate our senses, in a mindful way, we take our mind off worries, problems and unwanted thoughts.

Other ways could be eating delicious things, listening to our favourite music, looking at beautiful views etc. A cat is also a companion and they don’t ask for much apart from comfort and food and a bit of a fuss.

Of course not ALL cats are calm, so don’t quote me on that, some can be vicious or uninterested, but I speak of the majority. Fostering can be a great way to please the cat and yourself. A cat settled in a foster home is more likely to get adopted when viewed by a potential new owner, than a cat in a cattery. This is partly because the cat can be seen in a more natural environment and showing more normal characteristics, but also because the fosterer can advise on what the cat is like which is usually more positive than behaviours when locked up in a cattery pen day in day out.. So, why not invite a little cat into your home and help today – it can be lots of fun! So, here’s a short list of the pro’s and con’s of fostering – a few pointers to think about…

Pros • You get to have a cat without the cost or commitment • No worrying about possible vet bills • You get to give a cat a loving home • You are helping a charity with your voluntary actions • When the cat finds its ‘forever home’ through the adoption process, it is very fulfilling.

Cons • It is not your cat so you will have to say goodbye at some point • You cannot let a foster cat go outside and have to keep them indoors with a litter tray • You will need to take them to the vets for any neutering, vaccinations, micro-chipping etc • The cat may not go to a home you agree with, but it is out of your hands and you may have to deal with things like that.

My Experience I fostered my first cat, Mittens, and she was adopted within just a few weeks. I was really upset to lose her, but it’s either that or not help at all, so I quickly got another, a two year old boy called Titus, and after a couple of months, I decided to adopt him, and am so glad I did.

Then I fostered a kitten of just eleven weeks for a four month period over this summer. He has brain damage which affects his co-ordination, but it wasn’t an issue; in fact it made him extremely cute and brave and he wouldn’t let it get in the way of doing what he wanted to do. The main issue was diarrhoea which just didn’t clear up despite numerous trips to the vets, lots of antibiotics, probiotics and other treatments.

It was thought he had Giardia but came to light when the cattery came down with a Feline Panleukopenia virus (caused by Parvovirus) that he had most likely had that instead. This, of course, was a threat to my own cat, which was not ideal and I could only leave the house for a few hours at a time as the kitten needed looking after, becoming incontinent at one point, so it was a responsibility, but getting him better was the reward, and that was more important to me.

Unfortunately, he was re-homed as an indoor cat, and that saddens me, as I always said he should go outside, as he loved it outdoors and I feel he shouldn’t be treated like he is totally disabled, when he isn’t. I believe all cats should have the freedom to go in and out as they please, as it is us who made them domesticated and I don’t see why we should keep them in, bored and having to use a litter tray all their life – they really do not like it! (writing about this reminds me of the recent TV programme ‘The woman with 40 cats…’ that infuriated me, keeping 40 cats indoors all their lives, but it is just in my opinion)

Fostering cats can have its stressors and no-one wants to see the sorry sight of sick or injured or abused cats, but if we can help in the early stages of their rehabilitation or re-homing, then it is all worth while. They do not all come from these circumstances, and many are very healthy, but their owner may have passed away or just not be able to keep them anymore – it is not all doom and gloom and you can advise what you are willing to do or not do when you sign up..

I fostered through the RSPCA which I wouldn’t do again, for many reasons, but it seems to me that the Cats Protection does a lot to gain funding and donations and is run more smoothly, as I have met many of their fosterers and they do cat re-homing shows regularly, so they have a great success rate and concentrate only on cats and kittens, not other animals. But, naturally, I do not stop at cats and kittens. If I had a garden and more room, I would take in other animals, but I am not in the right circumstances. However, so many animals need help – dogs, rabbits, all sorts, so if you can help any animal at all, then why not give it a shot? Take Care Amanda 🙂

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