By Marian Kissinger

We acquired Kongo, a 6 year old neutered Oriental Shorthair about two years ago. Right away we realized that Kongo possessed some very unusual character traits. Above all, he has a bottomless hunger for human companionship, the more often the better. As soon as the first person arrives home at the end of the day, Kongo is THERE, as in constantly "THERE!"

He follows that person (usually it's my husband, Scott) from room to room begging for affection and recognition. But when Kongo hears my car pull up in the driveway, he abandons poor Scott and waits by the door to celebrate my arrival home. It seems I have been honored by being bestowed the title of "Kongo's Person of Choice."

Kongo and CocoHis favorite mode of transportation is lying across my shoulders with his front paws and head on one side and his back legs and tail on the other. We also have two dogs, and from the get-go, Kongo was completely unafraid of them, despite the fact that he weighs a mere fraction of each of their weight. Arnold is 85 pounds and Coco is approximately 50 pounds. On a good day, Kongo tops out at about seven pounds. Back to the dogs - Coco and Kongo are buddies. Both enjoy lounging on the sofa in the evenings, Coco wrapping her body around Kongo, nearly totally enveloping him.

This has been my very first encounter with an Oriental Shorthair. I have had cats throughout my life. Some of them have been more affectionate and people-oriented than others, but this little guy far surpasses any of them. So, last summer when I read an article in our local newspaper about pets being used as therapy animals, I thought that this could be Kongo's calling in life.

Help Wanted: Cat On a Mission

I started making some phone calls and got in touch with a national organization with local chapters called Love on a Leash. I did the preliminary paperwork that was required. I also took Kongo to the vet for a physical and a behavior evaluation.

KongoNext step was to find a visiting group for us to join, because we were required to do ten supervised visits to a facility where we could be observed by a Love on a Leash visit captain. I chose a group that visits an Alzheimer's facility two Saturday mornings a month and got in touch with the visit captain.

She was intrigued by my interest but extremely wary about having a cat come on board with the group. Most Love on Leash animals are dogs and she was very unsure about the cat's reaction to the dogs and the dogs' reactions toward the cat. Months later I found out that there had been another cat trying out the visiting routine with the group and it just did not work out. She welcomed us to give it a try, but I knew she was skeptical.

On the appointed day, we arrived early. I was told that the animals and their handlers met on the lawn outside the facility a few minutes before our scheduled hour-long visit. Eight or ten dogs (and their corresponding people) were waiting there. Wow, did Kongo ever get a lot of stares that morning! But, being the cool cucumber that he is, nothing fazed him. The dogs sniffed at him, but Kongo did not react. To their credit, these dogs are amazing creatures in their own right. They are very good at being therapy animals.

We entered the facility and followed the crowd. The residents love the visits from the animals. The whole scene was one of mutual affection, giving and receiving. A beautiful experience to watch! Kongo fit in perfectly!! He enjoyed every lap he was placed upon. Of course I asked each person first if they would like to hold my cat. Some people don't particularly care for cats.

 Kongo   Kongo

What totally made my day was one lady who was sitting on a chair in a community room with her head down and seemed to be fairly unresponsive. One by one several of the dog handlers approached her and asked her if she'd like to pet their dog. No response, no response - over and over again. Then I brought Kongo to her and asked if she would like to pet my cat. Immediately, she looked up, smiled and held her arms out wide to accept my compact bundle of love, Needless to say, the initially nervous visit captain was completely and pleasantly won over too, all fears abated.

 Kongo   Kongo

Kongo the Pro

So, after ten supervised visits, Kongo is now a certified pet therapy animal. That means that we can arrange visits to various places on our own. We still enjoy visiting our friends at the Alzheimer's facility.

KongoIn addition, we have visited elementary schools for literacy events. Children love reading to my cat. It is touching watching the students read to Kongo and every time they never fail to show him the pictures. I warn the teachers that although Kongo is a great listener, his comprehension skills are severely lacking - that always gets a smile. We visit our local library weekly. During his few "down" moments at the library, when he is not working, he just sort of wanders around. He has become a fixture there. You hear patrons greeting him: "Hey, Kongo" "How's it going, Kongo?" As always, his cool-as-a-cucumber persona stays with him.

Our next endeavor is going to be working with hospice patients. Kongo is good to go, I'm the one that has to go through the proper training. I should be finished with my training in the next few weeks.

I feel truly blessed that Kongo came to be a part of our family. He is so much fun to have around. He provides me with a wonderful way to give back to the community. I think he enjoys it as much as I do. I don't think he has any complaints about having more laps to sit on or more hands to pet him and give him the affection that he craves and deserves.

Is your cat good with people and calm around dogs? Consider making your kitty a Certified Therapy Cat! Contact Love on a Leash for more information! It's a great way for you and your cat to give back to the community!

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