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In September, USA Today published a story about the ways dogs are good for people’s health and well-being. Cat lovers responded that dogs aren’t the only pets whose companionship benefits people.

When 33% of the households in the USA have cats and there are 16 million more pet cats than dogs in American homes, they said, why do news stories about the benefits of pet ownership focus only on the dogs?

Research shows cats can also be caretakers for individuals and families, improve health and teach people of all ages to be kinder and gentler.

Theodora Wesselman is 94. She lives at TigerPlace, a retirement community in Missouri, and shares her home with her elderly cat, Cleo. Their friendship is just one example of how humans and cats become family and look out for each other.

Wesselman isn’t utterly alone without her feline companion. Her children stop by to visit and she enjoys the company of other residents,but Cleo is her best friend, she says. They’ve been together nearly 21 years.

“She sleeps on her own pillow right beside mine,” Wesselman says. “In the morning, she pecks on my cheek to wake me up. It’s really sweet. I pet her, tell her I love her and take her to the kitchen to prepare her food.”

Cleo and Wesselman “live for each other. I really think they keep each other going,” says Mary Kay Swanson, a TigerPlace employee.

Rebecca Johnson, director of the University of Missouri’s Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction, says that being able to care for a pet can improve morale and encourage people to take care of their own health and well-being. The research on the benefits of pet ownership is leading an increasing number of retirement communities and universities to welcome pets.

While a cat can’t make you physically healthier by demanding regular walks like a dog, a purr can lower blood pressure and reduce mental and emotional stress, research shows.

And they insist on compassion. Johnson says, “A dog will let you bang it on the head and still love you. A cat won’t do that. Children have to learn to be gentle to cats or the cat will go away.”

Many parents welcome cats’ help in reinforcing values of kindness and compassion in their children.

When Kaden, one of their Bengal escaped through a window that had been accidentally left open, Jud and Katherine Smith of Cumberland, Maine, and their two daughters took out a full-page ad for three days in The Portland Press Herald with their telephone number, a photo of Kaden and an offer of a $500 reward.

The cat had become such an integral part of the Smith family that they couldn’t simply let nature take its course and hope for the best.

Their efforts were rewarded. Three weeks later, someone found Kaden 7 miles away from home. He was skinny and exhausted, Jud said, but the whole family was delighted to have him back.

Recently Wesselman’s cat Cleo had a health scare. Swanson noticed something was wrong and became very concerned. Before veterinarians detected she had diabetes they could treat with insulin, Swanson talked with Wesselman about putting Cleo down.

Wesselman was distraught at the idea that she would no longer have her beloved feline companion.

“I think Cleo overheard us talking,” Swanson says. “She rebounded the next day. I’ve never seen Theodora so grateful or happy. Cleo is doing well. She’s off insulin, and we’re monitoring her blood on a weekly basis.”

[Source: USA Today]