Many of us have seen therapy dogs in hospital and even on campus before, but what about therapy cats? Christopher Pope, a fourth-year College of Medicine student, hopes to make them just as common.
If you’ve seen a man walking around campus with a cat draped around his neck, chances are excellent that it was Pope and his Tonkinese therapy cat, Lana.
Pope was inspired by his mom, who trained a Golden Retriever as a therapy dog. He has made it his mission to bring awareness to non-traditional therapy animals—not to be mistaken with emotional support animals or service animals.
What’s the difference?
Chris notes, there are differences between therapy animals, emotional support animals and service animals. Read about their different roles below:
- Therapy animals are animals who have gone through a certification/obedience test and can reliably go to hospitals/nursing homes/school/libraries to help raise morale in the individuals they visit.
- Emotional support animals are animals for which a doctor wrote a letter allowing their patient to keep that animal in housing that normally doesn't allow pets, or for pets to travel with the patient (such as planes, trains, etc.) when the animals wouldn't typically have authorization.
- Service animals are animals trained and tasked to perform specific actions for their owner. The most common service animals are Seeing Eye dogs for the blind, who help guide their owners and give them cues about their surroundings.
To deal with the day-to-day stresses of medical school, Pope often brings Lana along to class with him—after asking permission from the professor and class, of course.
Pope explains that he tries to be as mindful as possible of allergies and phobias when introducing Lana to new areas on campus and in the community.
“My cat reputation is starting to precede me,” says Pope who recently matched into a family medicine residency program at a small community hospital in Monroe, Michigan. Pope has already visited nursing homes and schools with Lana. He hopes to continue educating residents and attendings –and to introduce a therapy animal program to the hospital—during his residency.
Students who are interested in making their voice heard on mental health topics are encouraged to send an email to the Mental Health Committee. Whether it’s a suggestion for a service or to nominate yourself to serve on the Committee, emails are welcome. Send them to NEOMEDCares@neomed.edu
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