Amanda Bond started this project in Calgary after hearing about a similar program with Pima Animal Care Centre in Arizona. Amanda works in health care and cared for her own mother for 10 years after her dementia diagnosis – she is also a huge cat lover, so the program sounded like something she needed to do!
After discussions with Catalina Memory Care in Arizona (the care facility that partnered with Pima), she started making calls in Calgary to see if she could get something started here and PURR Project was founded. She matched a local care centre with ARF and their first four, four-week-old kittens arrived on May 29, 2017.
“The most poignant thing we experienced with the kittens was the family who adopted Angus (black male kitten). The adult daughter of a resident was coming to the care centre daily because her loved one was palliative. She would take Angus from the kitten cage to the room and nestle him close to her loved one and his loud purring had a calming effect. Angus also snuggled and played with her in the room which helped her during this difficult time. She formed a strong bond with Angus and, on the day her loved one passed away, she applied to adopt Angus. Now he is a happy, healthy kitten in their home shared with two other cats.
Another resident, who named one of the kittens Lucy, is a fantastic story teller. Whenever he holds a kitten, he shares the exact same recollection of the cats he had on the farm as a boy being fed milk straight from the cows, but then, he follows with new tales of farm life that are so genuine and fascinating, you could listen to him for hours. Having the kittens has sparked many residents to share their recollections of pets throughout their lives. Reminiscence can be soothing and familiar for people with dementia. It is a recognized therapeutic tool for people with memory and cognitive deficits.
One of the things I didn’t expect was that the children of staff members would come often to the care centre to visit. For many it was the first time they had seen where their mom or dad works. There is a stigma attached to brain illness that PURR Project is trying to help erase. Drawing in the community (either adoptees or family/friends of staff and residents) so that they can see people with cognitive deficits caring for these kittens, helps to dispel the myth that people with dementia are “empty”. The residents have their favourite kitties and marvel in each of their developmental stages. They talk about the emerging personalities of each kitten and guess what their eventual eye colour will be, etc. Even non-verbal residents who prefer little interaction with residents or staff, have been observed coming regularly to visit the kittens and smiling at their antics.
The joy these kittens give is not limited to residents. Staff member break-times are often spent coming to see the kittens and to share a cuddle. Healthcare workers have tough jobs and the opportunity to laugh and smile are very much welcome.”
The kittens (pictured) in the first litter ARF supplied were: Lucy (Calico/Tortie female); Angus (Black male); Pippi (Grey female); Chloe (Lilac Point Siamese female) – all named by residents or staff and all adopted by staff or family.
Partnering with the PURR Project has been a great experience for our Cat Program Team, the community, and for the kittens! The program has brought awareness to the cat overpopulation in Alberta, the need for foster homes, as well as the need for adoptive homes, while also providing enrichment for kittens and dementia care residents alike. We are very excited to work with the PURR Project again in the future and hope to bring a new litter of kittens to a dementia care facility this fall.
If you are interested in learning more about this program or volunteering to check in on kittens, assisting with medications (if needed), driving to vet visits and fundraising/promotion, visit PURR Project on Facebook and get in touch with Amanda!