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Charlie loves his job.

Twice a month, the large marmalade cat gets chauffeured to a place where he is adored, praised, and given love and affection by dozens of devoted minions.

Charlie is a therapy cat whose work includes regular visits to Villa Coronado, a San Diego-area assisted living facility.

There are so many benefits, said Janet Griffin, who coordinates the activities program at Villa Coronado for its 64 full-time residents. First, pets bring unconditional love. People love the one-on-one attention. There are connections, eye contact made. And its sentimental. People remember the animals they had when they were young.

Cats, dogs, rabbits and birds can offer comfort to people who have suffered strokes or are bedridden and wouldn’t otherwise see animals, says Nancy Denen, a board member with Love on a Leash, a nonprofit that provides training, evaluation and certification for therapy pets.

When a little furry creature comes up and interacts with people, well, once you touch it, it just cheers you up, said Denen, who also has a therapy cat.

Charlie was rescued from the animal shelter in Coronado, California, three years ago and has become a regular visitor at Villa Coronado. Residents gather in the facility’s activities room, where they get to spend time with the orange tabby.

While waiting for his arrival on a recent Thursday, about a dozen residents discussed Charlies previous visit and mimicked his cries.

Then as owner Claudene Garmon wheeled in Charlie’s zipped-up pet stroller, the excitement grew.

I love you, Charlie, said Natalie Bromert, 88, as Garmon picked up the cat and set him on her lap.

The residents of Villa Coronado are mostly seniors, and pets aren’t allowed to live there. There are dogs that visit Villa Coronado, but Charlie is the only therapy cat.

But Charlie’s work extends beyond Villa Coronado. He also helped children through a reading program at Coronados elementary schools for two years. Students who had difficulty reading aloud were encouraged to read to Charlie, who didnt correct or judge them.

He just listened, said Garmon, and many children grew more confident in their reading.

When Garmon visited Coronado’s animal shelter in search of a cat to bring into her family, she noticed Charlies mellow demeanor right away and adopted him. When she learned about pet therapy, she thought Charlie would be perfect for it.

Cats like Charlie are simply content to sit on you, purr, cuddle, that kind of thing, Denen said.

That usually helps to bring heart rate and blood pressure down, and if youre a cat person, that really is a bonus.

A therapy cat must undergo extensive training and meet several criteria. All vaccines must be up to date, and routine exams should be done to insure the cat is extremely healthy. If you think your cat could be a therapy cat, you can find more information about therapy cat training and certification at Love on a Leash and the Delta Society.

[Source: San Diego Union-Tribune]