We spoke to Pets As Therapy volunter Isabel Serafim about volunteering with Pets As Therapy, how her PAT cat London has impacted her own life, and how to manage an Instagram profile for your pet.
Name: Isabel Serafim
Became volunteer: February 2019
PAT pet type: Cat
PAT pet name: London
PAT pet age: 1 year
Our interview with Isabel
Have you always had cats?
No. I always wanted a cat, but only a few years ago I had the conditions. I used to travel for work a lot and I didn’t think it would be fair to have a pet. 5 years ago I finally settled and I got my first cat.
How did London come into your life?
Before London I had a cat named Lisbon. Lisbon was also a cat full of character. Lisbon unfortunately moved to cat heaven after an unexpected stroke 4 days before he turned 4 years. I was devastated and everyone around me was heartbroken too. I couldn’t face spending Lisbon’s birthday in a silent home. Anyone who lost a pet knows how silent a place becomes.
A couple of days after I asked my father to fly from Portugal and we went together to get London. He had the difficult mission to help us with the grieving process and to honour Lisbon’s legacy … and he did just that.
It was a mixture of tears of sadness for Lisbon and joy for London… and he helped us all with his little paws and kind heart to smile again.
What impact has London had on your life?
London is my partner. My choices have London’s wellbeing in consideration. He goes on holiday with me. Christmas is spent in Portugal… and he is family! Therefore travel arrangements are done considering the best option for London.
But the biggest impact is on my day to day. He always makes me smile and makes others smile. He is a celebrity in the building where we live. He is always ready for a cuddle from the neighbours. He brings a smile to everyone after a day at work. I’m very proud of him.
London also has his own Instagram profile – what made you decide to set this up?
Lisbon had a private page and I soon realised he had a group of fans that got some comfort from getting a couple of silly words back from the cat. It was therefore an easy decision for London.
He now has over 4000 followers on instagram and over 8000 on Facebook. I find all this remarkable. Our mission is to share joy. These are spaces for happy thoughts.
I soon realised he had a group of fans that got some comfort from getting a couple of silly words back from the cat.
Do you have any tips for anyone who’d like to set their pet up on social media?
Keep it light and fun. It’s always your pet who is the one ‘writing’ the posts! If someone comments on your posts then always acknowledge it – say something nice back or just like it. And for less nice comments, just don’t engage with them, and don’t think twice about banning those that made you mad or sad.
Your pets’ social media has to be a happy space. That’s what our pets deserve.
What made you decide to apply for London to become a PAT cat?
I’m always looking for different things to do with my cat. That’s how I found Pets As Therapy, through browsing on the internet. I thought it was a wonderful activity to do together and to give back at the same time.
I thought it was a wonderful activity to do together and to give back at the same time.
People are often surprised that cats can be therapy pets – what are your thoughts on this?
London was ‘home-schooled’ from day one so that we could apply as soon as we would meet the criteria – all pets have to be over 9 months old before they can apply to become a Pets As Therapy pet. He was exposed to different places, traveled, was picked up by every neighbour and stranger, got used to harness and jumper since a kitten, and learned discipline – like learning that he is not allowed to bite humans or he will get a vocal “No, No, No”.
When we go out he always wears a harness and jumper (which I sprayed with a de-stressing product so he has better coping tools to face unfamiliar things) and he knows that we always get back home and good things happen (like a toy and his favourite meal).
But it’s also important for me that London is always having fun on the visits. I never forget that he’s a cat, and I can read the signs to tell if he isn’t having fun.
Tell us about your Pets As Therapy visits
We chose to reach out to The Royal London Hospital. The team there has been wonderful. We initially suggested the more matured patients ward as it would be a better fit for a cat and we are now also visiting the trauma ward. We aim to visit every other week.
Our first visit was a trial one. The main objective was to see if London was comfortable and confirm what the reaction would be from patients and health professionals. I had a detailed explanation of the protocols. It was a great success.
And how does London find the visits?
He is getting more comfortable every time. I think routine is paramount. I think he already made a map of the different wards and now he can focus on the mission. He likes the attention and already made new friends. He knows when I pick him up and put him closer to a patient that is time for a cuddle and that he should remain calm. He already knows what we are doing when we are at the hospital and he walks with his tail up ready to prescribe smiles.
How do the people you visit react to seeing you and London?
The initial reaction is often thinking that it is a dog… and then the realisation and surprise that is cat. There’s always a person or two that are afraid or allergic to cats, but everyone has been very kind to us. Most patients want to cuddle London, and most health professionals want to cuddle and take photos with him as well!
For me, the biggest reward is the smiles.
The expression “London made my day” is something we hear regularly. London provides an escape to what the patient is going through. It triggers a conversation about their pets, on how much they miss them and how special they are in our life. He brings joy to the family and friends of the patients. London gives a fun moment to the health professionals helping them facing the day.
Last week London was particularly comfortable in a room with a particular lady. We walk out to go elsewhere, but he wanted to go back. Later the nurse asked if we had visited that room as the lady received bad news and could use some cheering up. Somehow London knew hence why he wanted to stay there.
In one of the weeks a lady that couldn’t speak English had a long conversation with London. I’m sure he understood it as she had the biggest smile.
All the stories end the same way… with the biggest smile!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are also always looking for new recruits to carry on the incredible work that volunteers like Isabel and London do. If you are interested in volunteering for Pets As Therapy, please fill out our application form, and we’ll be in touch.