Journal of Gerontological Nursing


Purrfect friends

Diana Hug

No abstract available for this article.

Here is a story which shows how the addition of two kittens made such a pleasant difference in the lives of many residents and staff at Pennswood Village - a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Newtown, PA.

Smokey and Muffin, named by the residents, were two homeless kittens from a stray litter. A physician on staff came up with the idea of giving them a home in the dementia unit - Woolman House. The idea caused a few problems initially because some staff members did not like cats. However, as time passed, Smokey and Muffin made an impact not only on many residents in the dementia unit, but also on others throughout the retirement community. Just seeing the joy and laughter the kittens have given to many of the residents has made their addition worthwhile.

Emily is a resident who has an afternoon ritual of giving the kittens some treats. Her face lights up as the kittens run to her and climb on her walker and chair waiting impatiently for their goodies. I have carried kittens to Emily's room when she has been "under the weather" and she just watches and smiles as they investigate her room. Another resident, Ava, "does her thing" by shining a flashlight on the floor while Smokey and Muffin chase the light. On occasion, residents Will and Sarah play with the kittens using long fishing pole toys purchased by the facility. Because Sarah sometimes has a hard time holding onto the fishing pole, staff members gave her a glove which has cat toys dangling from each finger. Sarah's room is decorated with cat pillows, cat pictures, and cat knick knacks because she has always loved cats. Sometimes Muffin naps in bed with a resident named Rose. Smokey sometimes gets to walk to the assisted care unit, Barclay House, to visit certain residents. When staff members pass a resident named Beth's room during breakfast, they sometimes have to pretend they don't see Beth allowing Smokey and Muffin to eat cereal and milk off her breakfast tray. Beth will become very upset and yell at staff to leave her room if they attempt to take Smokey and Muffin out. When another resident, Catherine, leaves her room in the morning with her walker, Smokey jumps up on the seat and Catherine gives him a ride "laughing all the way" down the hall.

Smokey and Muffin have helped many hospice residents simply by lying next to them in their time of need. The facility has received many letters from families who shared their pleasure about how special this was to their loved ones as they were dying.

When a resident named Millie was transferred to Woolman House because of a major change in her condition, Smokey and Muffin jumped right up on her bed immediately after she arrived, as if to say "Welcome, we will help you get through this."

Not only do our residents enjoy the kittens, but I have seen individuals from other departments visit more frequently just to play with them. The kitchen staff stop to play for a few minutes after delivp ering the food carts. Housekeeping gets a laugh daily because Smokey and Muffin love to jump in the linen carts. The cats climb on top of the carts as they are wheeled toward the doors as if to "hop a ride" off the unit. One day Muffin was hidden in the linen and she actually did ride all the way down the hall to a distant linen room. We heard lots of laughter in the linen room when she was found inside the cart!

Many families who visit bring their children so they can play with the kittens.

Smokey and Muffin have made such a difference. I enjoy seeing them daily, and it allows me to interact more often with many of the residents. The staff who do not appreciate them go home to their friends and family, but to the residents who do enjoy them, Smokey and Muffin have become "family."

While they were growing up, staff members had to deal with the usual mischief kittens get into - a scratch here and there when their tiny nails were fine and sharp. However, Smokey and Muffin are more gentle and tamer than many kittens because they have grown up with many people around them.

Christmastime last year was extra special, too. Our beautiful Christmas tree, which the Activities Department decorated, kept coming "undecorated" at the bottom. Sometimes the tree would be "dancing and swaying" and a red Christmas ball would suddenly fall off. Pictures were taken of residents sitting in front of the Christmas tree opening Smokey and Muffin's stocking that was filled with gifts from many of the staff members. The kittens made it a special Christmas.

Now Smokey and Muffin are a year old and they seem to "run the place." Instead of running away when the carpet cleaning machines come through, they lie in the middle of the floor and watch.

They have to be chased out of the way so staff can clean where the kittens happen to be lying. Many days they follow Betty, our housekeeper, from room to room as she cleans. It's a challenge for staff to make the beds if Smokey and Muffin feel like playing under the sheets.

Smokey and Muffin used to stick their paws in the fish tank, but now they just sit next to it and watch the fish swim back and forth.

Some people say cats are dumb, but I don't believe them. For instance, the doors to the residents' rooms have handles that pull down instead of knobs that turn. Smokey and Muffin have learned to jump up and pull down on the handles. When they want to enter a room, it's usually no problem for them.

Several residents who once stayed in the dementia unit have since returned to their apartments. They are frequently seen visiting their furry friends.

What a difference two kittens have made to many of us at Pennswood Village! I know they will continue to touch the lives of many others who will need to stay with us in this special unit.


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