BROOKLINE, Mass. This near-suburb of Boston is home to a number of hospitals, including St. Roch’s, named after the patron saint of dogs. “Not coincidentally, we’re the ones who developed the concept of a ‘therapy dog,'” says Dr. Charles Pilcaro, referring to the use of a good-tempered canine to assist a patient who is uncomfortable with physical contact. “If my wife weren’t allergic to them, I’m sure I wouldn’t be so edgy all the time,” he adds in a moment of self-revelation.
“Okay–I’ll leave you my assets and cut my wife out of my will.”
But St. Roch’s ran afoul of St. Gertrude’s, a hospital across town that moved to enforce this state’s strict anti-discrimination laws, which forbid the exclusion of any species from the benefits of a program that receives public funding. “The people over there are nuts,” says St. Roch’s CFO Ernie Glidden, referring to the bean counters at the rival hospital named after the patron saint of cats. “It’s not that we don’t like cats–although we don’t–it’s just that it was our idea.”
Sparklepuss is really enjoying that. Not.
And so funding for the 2012-13 fiscal year was split evenly between the two hospitals, enabling St. Gertrude’s to place 21 mature cats in home settings where the sick, the housebound and the frail elderly could interact with the species that is known for its haughty, almost disdainful attitudes towards humans.
“Did I ASK to come here? I don’t think so.”
“Whoever came up with this idea ought to have their head examined,” says Elsie Freeman, an 86-year-old widow who’s showing signs of dementia. “That cat couldn’t give two shits about me, but it did. On my dining room rug.”
A knock on the door is heard and it’s Winifred Glauben, the volunteer from St. Gertrude’s who’s come to pick up Sparklepuss, an 8-year-old tomcat, from his weeklong assignment. “Hi everybody!” she calls cheerfully as she enters. “Is Sparkly ready to go home.”
“If he isn’t I can help him pack,” Freeman says as she draws a cigarette from a box of Marlboro Menthol Lights. Irritable due to a program rule that has prohibited her from smoking during the therapy cat’s visit, she flicks on her lighter and takes a puff, figuring she has nothing to lose at this point. “Don’t let the pet door hit you in the ass on your way out,” she snaps as she inhales deeply, then breathes a sigh of visible relief.
The conclusion of a peer-reviewed study of comparative results is that cats provide little or no therapeutic benefits once they have grown out of kittenhood and developed as adults. “Dogs want to be part of your life,” says animal behaviorist Niles Fersera. “Cats want to be fed, and would like you to get on with your life.”
“I’m bustin’ out of this joint.”
So St. Roch’s is planning to appeal a ruling by the state agency that cut their funding in half, saying all animals may be equal, but they’re also different. “The empirical evidence is clear that people derive therapeutic benefits from dogs,” says Pilcaro. “It is equally clear that it’s the other way around with cats.”