Marie Mitchell

Marie Mitchell is a Register columnist.

Who can resist the appeal of a furry cat or kitten curled comfortably in your lap? Purring. Vibrating. At rest. At peace.

They have no expectations of you except that you don’t move a muscle. Don’t rouse them from their slumber. Interrupt their feline dreams of chasing mice through a green pasture. Make them rearrange themselves into other impossible positions.

They are quiet, unassuming companions. They don’t ask any questions about how your day’s been. They don’t want to share feelings. They don’t pass judgment on how well you do your job. It doesn’t matter to them what your friends think of you. 

They’re just content that you are there. On the couch. Providing a calm, warm place for them to relax.

And, while they don’t seem to have a care in the world, you can feel the stressors of your own life start to fade as you stroke the soft ball of fluff next to you.

So, is it any wonder that cats are becoming popular Emotional Support Animals in homes and schools? These “assistance animals,” as they’re called, help people deal with a variety of issues including anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder and autism.

Ruby and her summer roommate, Kelsey, share their apartment-like dorm room at Transy with a sweet-tempered, playful, curious, loving, gray cat they’ve named Meowi, who was adopted from the Lexington Animal Shelter. The name comes from their fondness of the animated demigod, Maui, from the Disney movie, “Moana.”

Since Meowi is technically Kelsey’s companion, she had to have a licensed health professional certify a need for an assistance animal so the cat could live in the dorm. She also had to prove Meowi was up-to-date on his shots and possessed a suitable temperament for dorm dwelling—sociable, and OK around strangers, other animals and unpredictable circumstances. While not guaranteeing a safe transition, those precautions might reduce the incidents of yowling, prowling and clawing if the cat couldn’t adjust to his new home.

Meowi didn’t require any special training, like a service animal would, since his main function is to simply help someone better cope with stressors, not perform any specific tasks that the human can’t do themselves like guiding a visually impaired person or alerting someone prone to seizures that one is about to occur.

He’s also not a “therapy” animal like those trained to interact with seniors in nursing homes or kids with problems at school, even inmates in prisons. It’s now believed, though, that therapy animals can help Alzheimer’s patients by stimulating their memories about some long-forgotten emotions.

Meowi doesn’t have such a grandiose agenda. He’s just there to boost everyone’s spirits. And he does.

The three of them bonded quickly. In fact, Meowi became a magnet in attracting others to their room. It’s no wonder. Studies have proven that stroking a cat can release oxytocin, a hormone that triggers happy feelings. 

In fact, in his first book, “Cat Daddy,” the TV cat guru, Jackson Galaxy, says adopting an incorrigible stray cat he named Benny, saved him from self-destructive behavior with drinking and drugs. 

So, you see, cats are a much cheaper, healthier, easier way to de-stress and boost your mood.

That’s not to say Meowi spends all his time laying around the room. The girls have tried taking Meowi for a walk in a harness attached to a leash. But not many cats put up with that nonsense. And Meowi is no exception. 

They also bought a ventilated catpack with a bubble window where he can be contained but still enjoy the scenery on walks. He doesn’t exactly sit at the door and beg to go out and see the world that way, but at least he tolerates that transportation option better than the leash.

Since he’s co-parented by two teenaged girls with some free time on their hands, Meowi has his own Facebook page. He’s been subjected to more photo shoots than many high-paid models. Meowi perched in the window, overlooking the sand volleyball court. Meowi dressed in a Transy T-shirt. Meowi, in a playful mood, batting around his toys or climbing through his obstacle course. Meowi, sleeping, his body wound like the Yin/Yang symbol. 

He’s received more “likes” on Facebook and Instagram than most people I know. Quite a following!

While other animals, like dogs, birds, horses, even pigs and ferrets, can be assistance animals, cats are probably the most popular choice as companions. With a simple act of rubbing against your leg, purring in your lap, or playing with a catnip mouse, they can give you nine lives’ worth of happiness.


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