Healing Humans, One Paw at a Time

 Emily Fata  August 14th, 2016   

Written By: Vanessa Liegghio

Living with several major mental health issues left me feeling alone and misunderstood through the course of much my life. So when I ventured out on my own, leaving my childhood home where my parents live, I was worried it may have a negative effect on my health. After a few short months living independently in my new apartment, I realized I didn’t have to be alone. Companionship doesn’t always have to come in the form of a romantic relationship, or in the comfort of a relative or friend. My therapist suggested I consider adopting a therapy animal, and I jumped at the idea. I had never experienced living with a pet before but had always been eager to have a furry friend. In finding out having a dog wouldn’t be an option given the rules of my apartment building, I knew my only option was to look for a new feline friend. I had never been a fan of cats prior to needing a therapy animal, so I was a bit hesitant when looking for a kitten. Finding my now furry best friend Conrad was an instance in my life that made me truly believe in fate. Upon seeing his picture on the rescue site, I instantly fell in love. His big blue eyes and little pink nose were the first features that helped Conrad steal my heart, but it was his comforting and loving demeanor that secured his presence in my life forever.

When I was told Conrad’s rescue story, my heart soared at the idea of helping him just as he was going to help me. When he was only a few days old Conrad was found in the countryside of Hamilton, Ontario with only his two munchkin sisters and a shabby coat. Because we don’t know his parentage, we can only guess that he is he is the runt of his pack, a tiny cat who has grown only slightly since I adopted him in February of 2015. He may come in a small package, but he has a big heart, kind of like me! It may have taken a few days for him to warm up to his new home, but after the first time he curled up in my lap, we’ve been inseparable ever since!

I learned quickly that even without much training, Conrad was able to offer me a great deal of therapeutic relief. The first time I had a panic attack in his presence, he crawled up behind me on the couch and nuzzled his little head in the crook of my neck. His gentle purring allowed me to focus on my own breathing, quickly disengaging my irrational thoughts as my attention shifted to his love and affection. As time has gone on I have realized when I am feeling an anxiety attack coming on, lying on my bed and waiting for Conrad to lay on my chest is the best way to regulate my breathing and find comfort in his warmth.

Sometimes coming home to an empty apartment can be disheartening, particularly after a challenging day. But with the turn of my key in the lock I can already hear his soft meows welcoming me home, usually sprawled out on the floor, rolling around waiting to be patted. It has become our ‘hello’ ritual, one that I always look forward to after a long day. To everyone who has had the pleasure of meeting Conrad, it quickly becomes clear he is no ordinary kitty and that he is quite attached to his mom. He follows me around despite the already small quarters, and is always nearby with his wide-eyed look and an outstretched paw, so to speak.

I never knew I could experience so much joy from living with an animal, but Conrad has brought much more laughter and love into my life. I can say with confidence he has made a significant contribution to the great improvement in my mental health and I know there have been countless difficult days that he has helped me persevere through. To all those skeptical about the benefits or legitimacy of therapy animals—I am living proof that sometimes all you need is a little love from a furry friend to make it through some of the darkest times.