We spoke to Dawn Payne about her voluntary work with Pets As Therapy, alongside her PAT cat Rico, and why cats make great therapy pets.

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Volunteer profile

Name: Dawn Payne

Location: Derby

PAT pet type: cat

PAT pet name:  Rico

PAT pet age: 13

Our interview with Dawn

When did you get your first cat?

When I was aged 23 I bought my first house, and soon after I moved in my new neighbours rehomed five cats. This was going to be too much for them so they kept the three girls, and I took in the two boys.

What impact have cats had in your life?

I work night shifts and I love coming home to them waiting by the door – usually meowing for food and fuss! To me it means that I have company, and something to care for.

To me having cats means that I have company, and something to care for.

How did your PAT cat, Rico, come into your life?

I adopted Rico from the Cats Protection League. I knew he was the one for me the moment I first met him. He came out of his pen, jumped on my shoulder and nuzzled me. He was 2 and a half years old at the time. Luckily, he got on really well with my other cat, William and within a week they were eating side by side.

PAT cat Rico

And what’s he like as a pet?

I’m biased of course, but he’s adorable. He’s so affectionate and follows me around everywhere. He’s a real people cat and has to say hello to everyone – and he loves being stroked, and belly rubs. You can see why he makes such a perfect PAT cat!

Other than that, he’s rather partial to baked beans and playing with ping pong balls. He snores very loudly, and pounds my head when he wants me to get up and give him attention. He absolutely loves riding in the car and he’ll often come for a ride in his seat, with his harness on – and he has a special buggy too that he rides in if I have to park the car far away from where we’re visiting.

When did you become a Pets As Therapy volunteer?

We got accepted as volunteers in August 2018, and went on our first visit in September.

What made you decide to apply?

I saw Jo Brand’s programme ‘Cats and Kittens’ on TV and there was an episode with a therapy cat. I thought ‘Rico could do that’ – he’s so laid back, likes travelling, and loves meeting people.

What do people say when they find out that Rico is a PAT cat?

The most common reaction is ‘I’ve only ever seen therapy dogs’. Hopefully Rico is a good example and advertisement that cats can be really effective as therapy pets too.

Hopefully Rico is a good example and advertisement that cats can be really effective as therapy pets too.

Where do you and Rico visit?

PAT cat Rico on a visitWe visit two venues in Derby, our local area. The first is Richmond Homes in Aston which we visit every fortnight. It’s a lifestyle complex and we’re based in the care home part. Usually a visit is just a social gathering, with Rico and I sitting with residents over a cuppa. Rico will sit on the sofa and we might go into some residents’ rooms to visit them.

The other establishment is Cubley Court at Kingsway Hospital, a mental health unit, which we visit about every three weeks. It’s really well organised and normally there will be two members of staff in the room with us, and they’ll bring patients in one or two at a time to see Rico and I – this is because the patients can be unpredictable, so it helps Rico and I to feel at ease, and makes sure each patient gets time with us. I think the staff there are really impressed by the effect Rico has on the patients – it’s lovely to see their faces light up when they see him, and some patients even relax so much that they’re nodding off with Rico!

Rico loves the visits too. He’ll normally have a sniff around the room we’re in first, and then goes and finds a comfy spot on a sofa to sit, and waits for his fans to arrive!

How does your volunteering benefit the people you visit?

At the care home I think having us visit really benefits the residents because it’s a tactile session. They can stroke Rico, and this often seems to remind them of pets they had during their life, and they can reminisce on these animals. They seem to really enjoy having him to visit and hearing about his adventures. Staff will often take photos of them during the visits that they can put up on the walls in their rooms.

Read more volunteer stories

We would love to hear your stories about Pets As Therapy, whether you’re a volunteer, an establishment that works with us, or someone who has been visited by a PAT pet. To submit your story please contact tabitha@monchu.uk.

We are also always looking for new recruits to carry on the incredible work that volunteers like Dawn and Rico do. If you are interested in volunteering for Pets As Therapy, please fill out our application form, and we’ll be in touch.