TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - One of Arizona's oldest cat shelters, the Hermitage No-Kill Cat Shelter and Sanctuary, has teamed up with the Southern Arizona Veterans Administration Health Care System (SAVAHCS) to continue the 'Meows for Military' program for the third year in a row.
The program began in 2017 as an additional resource for southern Arizona veterans in need of animal-assisted therapy.
According to The Hermitage, community outreach and education have always been an integral part of its mission and set out to design and implement animal therapy programs to serve Tucson and Pima County.
The Meows for Military program provides weekly cat visits to SAVAHCS, with cats especially chosen to act as Feline Ambassadors and provide snuggles and purrs. Cats and veterans alike share a safe space, giving the veterans space to heal and rest while surrounded by the love only cats can give.
According to Hermitage they were able to serve 553 participants via the Meows for Military program.
Not only do these felines provide love and snuggles, it is a chance for the animals to be showcased and possibly even adopted. One such example The Hermitage gives is the story of Haboob, a cat with only three legs. He had trouble adapting to having only three legs and was depressed. One of the veteran participants, Mr. M, also an amputee, gave the cat some encouragement.
“It doesn’t matter that [Haboob] is missing a leg, because [his] heart more than made up for it. [Haboob] has a purpose, and was there comforting others.”
Soon after Haboob's visit to the VA, the feline found his forever home.
Since the start of the program five feline Ambassadors have been adopted, finding loving homes with patients and staff at the VA, some have also found homes as emotional support animals.
The cats are not the only ones benefiting from the program, veterans' spirits have been lifted, assisting in their healing process.
Evidence-based research at UCLA, (https://www.uclahealth.org/pac/animal-assisted-therapy) has shown that interacting with animals is therapeutic: it lowers blood pressure, decreases rates of depression and anxiety, and promotes healing.