He’s a survivor and an animal advocate. Now Facebook-famous feline Buzz the Fuzz is also a certified animal assistance therapy pet. Rescued from the hoarded home he shared with 39 German Shepherd dogs in February 2014, Buzz has attracted plenty of online attention since being shaved down and adopted by Sandra Soroka.
His thousands of Facebook fans (including his namesake, astronaut Buzz Aldrin) peek into his life each day to see just how far Buzz has come since the haircut that marked the beginning of his new life.
Soroka has used Buzz’s social media platforms to advocate against animal abuse and for adoptable shelter pets through hilarious images and animation, and now Buzz is helping humans, too. The fluffy kitty’s journey from online sensation to therapy cat began when Soroka witnessed the impact therapy cats can make on the people who need them the most.
“I had a friend who passed away from brain cancer last year, and a therapy cat visited him in hospice. That was the first time I had ever heard of a therapy cat,” Soroka explains, adding that her late friend, Kevin Bremer, had been a cat lover all his life.
“When he started getting sick and he had to get rid of his cats, it was a big deal,” she recalls.
According to Soroka, being visited by a therapy cat brought great joy to Bremer in his final days, and she’ll never forget how happy he looked while petting his furry visitor.
After witnessing the impact a therapy cat made on her dying friend, Soroka began to research what it would take to get Buzz the Fuzz certified. She already knew her furry little guy had the kind of outgoing personality needed for social visiting. Since he came to live with Soroka, Buzz has always been a social butterfly — unlike his sister, Charlie Tuna.
“You can’t even take her to the vet. She gets so scared at the vet she wants to go back in the carrier. She’s very chill and well-behaved for a cat, but if you take her out of her element she’s not happy.”
While a trip to the vet’s office makes his sister cower, Buzz takes the opportunity to turn on the charm.
“All the vet techs and sometimes even all three veterinarians end up in the same room because they have to play with him,” says Soroka, who began slowly testing Buzz’s outgoing attitude long before signing him up as a therapy cat.
She started by taking him to the pet store on a leash and harness, and noticed he did quite well being out in public. After that, Buzz made an appearance at the New York State Capitol for Animal Advocacy Day, an annual event he’s been to twice now.
“That’s why I thought he had the right temperament for this. Hundreds of people were petting him all day at the Animal Advocacy Day, and he was around dogs and people and just didn’t care,” says Soroka.
When she first began researching how to get Buzz into the world of therapy animal work, Soroka turned to a couple of her Animal Advocacy Day buddies, Hudson the Railroad Puppy and his owner Richard Nash. Like Buzz, Hudson didn’t have the best start in life and suffered a lot of cruelty at the hands of humans. With Nash by his side, Hudson has gone from abuse victim to therapy dog, and his journey provided plenty of inspiration for Soroka.
“I asked Richard a lot of questions,” she says, adding that she also spoke to Jen Adams, whose tiny dog Gizmo is a fellow Facebook sensation and a therapy dog with Paws for Friendship Inc.
Buzz applied to be part of the same organization, and after completing all his paperwork and vet checks he was given his official Paws for Friendship uniform and got started making a difference in the lives of others.
“Buzz goes once a month to a nursing home. He’s gone twice already. Since he’s new to this I don’t want to overstimulate him,” Soroka explains.
During his visits, 20-pound Buzz is carried around in a baby sling because Soroka couldn’t find an animal sling big enough to support her hefty kitty. Eight to 10 nursing home residents gather in a common area when Buzz arrives.
“I bring him around to each person and they pet him. I just keep doing the rounds around the room,” Soroka says, adding that all of Buzz’s new friends comment on how big he is.
“The people love it. The nursing homes are used to having dogs come and visit, but they never have a cat come and visit, so it’s a big deal for them.”
According to Soroka, most of the residents are content to pet Buzz while he’s in his sling, but every once in awhile someone asks if he can sit in their lap, which isn’t a problem at all for this chill, social cat. Hanging out with Buzz reminds the visitors of cats they’ve loved, and Soroka is happy to share in these trips down feline memory lane.
“I just love it that they tell me stories about their cats that they used to have.”
Buzz’s therapy sessions typically last 45 minutes to an hour, and he’ll soon be visiting individual patients in their rooms instead of in a group setting. Soroka says she’s pleased to see her special cat making a special difference for people like her late friend Kevin.
“I’m glad that we can kind of do this in his honor and maybe bring somebody the kind of joy that he felt,” Soroka says.
About the author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten, GhostBuster the Lab and her newest dog, Marshmallow, make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google +