- Associated Press - Saturday, February 4, 2017

RACINE, Wis. (AP) - When Kelli McDonald lost two of her three cats in late 2015, she knew that her next pet was going to be a therapy cat.

She got the idea after her own grandmother passed away in hospice, requesting to see her cat - a wish that couldn’t be fulfilled, The Journal Times (https://bit.ly/2k5PVTm ) reported.

“It broke my heart, so I knew that I had to do something,” McDonald said.

After visiting her parents in Wausau, 32-year-old nurse McDonald began her search in North Central Wisconsin. She looked at cats in various shelters and pet stores in Wausau, Stevens Point, Merrill and Antigo, but after a visit to the Langlade County Humane Society, McDonald had narrowed her choice down to three cats. Ultimately, Gracie, a black and tan female tortoiseshell with six toes, was chosen on Dec. 28, 2015.

Born in August 2015, Gracie seemed to have the perfect temperament to be a therapy cat.

Gracie is a registered therapy cat through Pet Partners, a nationwide organization specializing in registering therapy animal teams of nine species, including dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, llamas and alpacas, birds, pigs and rats.

The road to becoming a therapy cat takes a lot of preparation. According to The Pet Partners website, prospective animals must be at least 1 year old at the time of evaluation, have lived with their owner for at least six months, be house trained, up-to-date on shots, have no history of aggression towards people or other animals, demonstrate basic obedience skills, welcome interactions with strangers and be comfortable with wearing Pet Partners approved equipment, like a harness.

McDonald was also required to take an online course to be a pet handler, but ultimately, she is glad she went through the process. “It (the registration through Pet Partners) makes us more credible and allows us to do more things in the community,” she said.

During Gracie’s initial screening, she was given a perfect score - something that is unusual. “She said she never usually gives perfect scores,” McDonald said. “But she said she deserved it.”

Gracie, whose favorite snack is pumpkin seeds, enjoys traveling so much that she purrs when McDonald pulls out her carrier or puts her harness on her.

And Gracie’s presence in the community continues to grow. The feline makes frequent appearances at a special education class where McDonald works as a school nurse at Johnson Elementary School, 2420 Kentucky St., volunteers at the Racine Public Library, 75 Seventh St., as part of the Ruff Readers & Cat Chats program in which children read to and cuddle with her and even enjoys frequent visits to the pet store where she gets along with all humans and other animal visitors alike.

“One time, we happened to come into a pet store during a puppy training class. Gracie just laid there and let the dogs sniff her,” McDonald said.

Another one of Gracie’s favorite activities includes traveling with “mom” McDonald to Ridgewood Care Center, 3205 Wood Road, to visit residents.

Carol Fox, an 81-year-old Ridgewood resident, was glad to see Gracie after the holidays. “I missed her. It’s been a while,” Fox said. “She’s just the sweetest. I used to have cats at home, but they didn’t sit on my lap like Gracie does.”

81-year-old Helen Rogers also enjoys Gracie’s visits. “She’s such a nice kitty. She’s just so good!” Rogers said.

Ridgewood Director of Recreation and Volunteers Krista Kennedy said that Gracie’s visits have filled a void in the nursing home for residents. “Our residents absolutely love it. She’s our one and only cat.”

At home, Gracie is an extremely playful and loving cat, who is pretty independent. “She sat on my lap this morning while I blow dried my hair and put makeup on - She isn’t afraid of anything!” McDonald said.

“But when we go out on therapy visits, she knows what her job is. She may be tempted to want to just play or sniff around the room, but she knows that is not what she is there for. I don’t have to force her to sit on people’s laps at the nursing home or to read with the kids. She just knows what her job is - to comfort and cheer up the people there. She is so smart and special.”


Information from: The Journal Times, https://www.journaltimes.com

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