PAT Stories

Josie Hughes & Benjen

“The only time I’ve ever heard Benjen purr is when he’s with young people on our PAT visits. He will quite frequently fall asleep on someone.”

Josie Hughes from Northamptonshire is a PAT Volunteer with her nine-year-old cat, a Maine Coon called Benjen. He’s laid back, friendly and really loves being fussed and cuddled – he’s a perfect PAT Cat. “He’s a bit on the large side, weighing in at 8.5kg, so that sometimes scares people at first,” Josie smiles. “However, once they realise Benjen is a big gentle giant, people just want to snuggle with him.”

Josie first registered with Pets As Therapy with her dog Woody. “In 2018 my stepdad had a series of strokes that left him very disabled. He ended up in an intermediate care unit for a few months that allowed dogs in, so I took Woody to see him. What started as visits to my stepdad quickly became visits to see other patients too, so I decided to ‘make it official’ and applied to be a volunteer.

“I can’t imagine being in hospital or a care home and not having animals around. I also love spending time with my dogs and cats and can talk about them for ever. Being a PAT Volunteer enables me to combine spending time with my animals and brightening up someone’s day with them.”

The joy of Benjen
Benjen started his PAT Cat visits at a care home. “We would spend time in the lounge, just talking to the residents and hanging out. Then we’d go to the dementia wing, again meeting people and chatting. He subsequently started visiting a different care home at the request of a relative of one of the residents, ‘Auntie’. She enjoyed Benjen sitting on her knee.”

Now the visiting PAT Team go to two CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) units in Northampton. “We visit once a fortnight and spend about an hour in each place. Benjen loves patients making a fuss of him, as well as getting treats – he’ll pretty much do anything for Dreamies,” laughs Josie. “The only time I’ve ever heard Benjen purr is when he’s with young people on our PAT visits. He will quite frequently fall asleep on someone.”

Those who benefit from Benjen’s visits are always eager to see him again. “Very simplistically, he cheers the young people up and helps them to relax. PAT visits are something different for them to get excited about, and having a cat fall asleep on you, or being able to give Benjen a treat or rub his tummy, gives them a sense of joy. It reminds them that they are special – cats don’t accept those things from just anyone! The wards seem calmer after we leave. He has a calming influence on staff too. I’ve been told on more than one occasion that seeing Benjen has really brighten up what was a difficult day.”

Cat power
Josie believes that there’s something about an animal giving unconditional love that just makes people feel better. “A lot of those we see are either dog or cat people, and so it’s really beneficial for the ‘cat people’ to have a cat visit. Some of the patients are in the unit for months at a time, and Benjen might be the only animal they’ve seen in weeks. He helps them if they’re missing their animals and missing home. Being around an animal is a normal event for patients who are spending their time in what is a very abnormal, often stressful, setting.”

Volunteering is rewarding for Josie too. “Seeing faces brighten up when Benjen and I go into a room, and seeing him settle down on someone, purring away, is just a wonderful feeling,” she says. “On our visit last night, we heard that one of the patients we’ve got to know is being discharged soon. She said spending time with Benjen has really helped her OCD – that was a great thing to hear. It’s also really satisfying seeing someone who was scared to touch Benjen the first time they met ending up, a few weeks or months later, with him on their lap, and a big smile on their face. It really feels like we’re making a difference.”


We are always looking to recruit more volunteers.

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