Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.
When Jessica Hagan first adopted Draven two years ago, she thought her golden-eyed black kitten was a bit of an oddball. Jessica’s other two cats were alternately shy and aloof, so she couldn’t understand why Draven was eager to make friends with everybody who entered their Pennsylvania, home. “I thought he was the weirdest cat,” Jessica said. “He’s not scared of strangers. He’d let anybody pet him, and he’d take treats from anyone.”
Draven’s gregarious nature prompted Jessica and her husband, Eric, to enter him in the household pet category of an area cat show — “just for fun,” she said. At the show, Draven surprised everyone by sitting on Jessica’s lap, enthusiastically soaking up attention. That’s when Jessica realized her unusual kitty’s true calling. “By the end of the day, I just sat him on my lap, and people came by and petted him,” Jessica said. “We realized he’s not afraid of being in the car and doesn’t mind strangers, so we started practicing for being a therapy cat. He took it all in stride.”
Once Draven was a year old, he became official through Love on a Leash, a nonprofit organization based in Oceanside, California, that provides training and certification for therapy dogs, cats, and rabbits.
In addition to staying up-to-date on vaccines and logging at least 10 training hours, the primary qualification for therapy cats is a naturally affable demeanor, according to Jessica. It seemed Draven was born for the job. “I always tell people you can’t make a cat do anything they don’t want to do,” Jessica said. “They say, ‘My cat would be climbing up the curtains if I brought him in here or hiding under the bed hissing.’ And yeah — it’s not for everybody.”
Now in his second year as a certified therapy pet, Draven is one busy kitty. Jessica regularly takes him to hospitals, nursing homes, and schools, as well as fundraisers benefiting area humane societies — and sometimes Draven arrives in costume. When the duo goes out, Jessica either pushes Draven in a stroller or walks him on a harness, which initially surprises people. “Most people are used to therapy dogs and service animals, but it’s funny when you take a cat somewhere, and the cat is better behaved than half the people,” Jessica said. “Most cats, like my first two, are finicky, and sometimes they smack you for no reason. People are shocked by how mellow Draven is.”
People are also grateful to hang out with such a friendly and mild-mannered kitty. For one elderly resident at Grove Manor, a nursing home in Pennsylvania Jessica and Draven frequent, spending time with Draven is the highlight of her week. “We visit her because she doesn’t have family around here, and she never got married and never had kids,” Jessica said. “She doesn’t get visitors that often. She said, ‘If I could ever get home, I’d get another cat.’”
Draven also brings his unique brand of feline friendship to patients at Grove City Medical Center. Jessica recently introduced Draven to a woman who fell while she was in town visiting a friend, resulting in a monthlong hospital stay. The woman was out of work, and bills were piling up, creating more stress on top of already being injured. Draven provided a much-needed dose of levity. “You could tell seeing Draven was a relief,” Jessica said. “It made her day bringing her something that wasn’t medicine or a bill. There have been lots of times when you could tell Draven really made someone happy.”
In addition to the psychological benefits of visiting with a therapy cat, studies have suggested that cats’ purrs may have legitimate healing properties. Not only does the frequency of a cat’s purr relieve stress, it may also increase bone density and even lower blood pressure. “It’s always a plus to sell people on it,” Jessica joked. “Let us come to your hospital — my cat will heal your broken leg!”
When it comes to Draven the therapy cat, most people are easily sold, but occasionally Jessica encounters a familiar refrain: “I’m just not a cat person.” After seeing Draven interact with other people in the facility, however, even the skeptics change their tune. “I’ve had someone tell me, ‘I don’t like cats — but I like Draven,’” Jessica said. “He’s changing dog people, one at a time.”
Keep up with Draven’s work by following him on Facebook.