Published: Sunday, November 12, 2006
Cat therapy proves helpful for residents
The lovable cat has a calming effect on the home's residents.
By SEAN BARRON
YOUNGSTOWN For many people suffering from mental illness, traditional treatment often includes medication and various forms of therapy.
A big part of treatment for Melissa Kelley, Richard Mauser and Maggie Cassidy-Snyder comes in the four-legged variety.
In one way or another, the three residents of the Doris Burdman Group Home, 278 Broadway Ave. on the city's North Side, have benefited by taking care of Tigger, a male tabby cat who for about 11 years has called the facility home.
Cassidy-Snyder said she has lost several loved ones recently and that having Tigger around has been a source of comfort. Cassidy-Snyder, who's lived at the home for about a year after falling on hard times and having no place to go, said she often takes the cat outside during residents' meals.
"I love animals. He's something to hold, something of a buffer zone," she said.
No one seemed certain about how the cat got to the group home; some speculate that another resident found it near a trash bin and that it may have been a stray animal. Since 1995, Tigger has been at the facility ingratiating himself into the lives of numerous residents, explained Tom Arens, program director.
The circumstances surrounding Tigger's arrival when he was 5 months old are inconsequential to Mauser, 56, who lives in one of 15 apartments next door to the Burdman home. What matters to him is what the animal offers, Mauser said.
"I have conversations with Tigger," Mauser added. "He's helped me because he affords me affection and companionship."
Mauser, who's lived at the Burdman home off and on since 2001, added that all nine of the facility's residents take care of the cat. One resident got Tigger a special food bowl and marker with which to add his name, Mauser said.
Kelley, who also lives in one of the apartments, said that having Tigger in her life "has helped me change for the better. He's enriched all our lives."
One way the cat has helped over the last decade is by providing a sense of calm to the home's residents, many of whom are in crisis, noted Bob Bryant, the facility's operations manager. Tigger often gives the residents something to focus on besides their situation, he added.
"It can be easier to take care of something else other than yourself," Bryant said.
Most residents stay at the group home an average of six months. The Doris Burdman facility provides transitional housing for people with mental illness, many of whom see improvements, Arens noted.
"Many get well enough to move out on their own with little or no supervision," he said. "I'm amazed, over the years, how people with mental illness often can't relate to others but can pick up and stroke Tigger."