Meet Tom the Therapy Cat Who Comforts Veterans

Posted by Paige Cerulli
therapy cat
All photos courtesy of Salem VA Medical Center via Today

Ailing veterans at the Salem VA Medical Center have a particularly unusual caretaker. He's orange, has four legs, and is covered in fur. His name is Tom.

The Salem VA Medical Center, located in Salem, New Hampshire, provides care services to ailing veterans. Veterans enter the center for rehabilitative, palliative care, and long-term nursing care.

Therapy cat

The patients receive specialized nursing care and treatments, and sometimes receive visitors. But there's one visitor who's a bit unlike your typical friend or family visitor.

Therapy cat

His name is Tom, and he's a friendly orange tomcat who loves spending time with the veterans and their families. Tom seems to have a sixth sense and can often be found comforting a veteran who isn't feeling well and who could benefit from the company of a visitor.

The cat wanders into patients' rooms, sleeps on their beds with them, and is always happy to be pet.

Therapy cat

Tom's presence at the medical center was due, in part, to the book "Making Rounds with Oscar," by Dr. David Dosa. In the book, Dr. Dosa discusses how Oscar the cat comforted Dr. Dosa's patients, who had dementia. Oscar seemed to intuitively know when patients were about to pass away, and could always be found in their rooms during that time.

Therapy cat

Dotti Rizzo, chief nurse at the Sale VA Medical Center's extended care service, and Laura Hart, a physician's assistant, both read the book in 2012. They decided that the medical center needed a cat just like Oscar, and set out to find one.

They worked with an office manager of a local veterinarian's office, and the office manager visited a local shelter to find a cat who would be suitable for the job.

And so, Tom came home.

Therapy cat

Many patients and their families adore Tom, and often bring in special treats for him. For those who do not like cats, or who may be allergic, the center has set up "No Cat Zones" that Tom is not allowed to access.

Tom likes to ride on the service carts that nurses push throughout the hospital, and he can be quite insistent when he is locked out of a room.

Therapy cat

Along with knowing when the patients needed additional comfort, Tom seems to be able to sense when patients are about to pass away. A veteran's daughter was visiting him one day when she stepped outside the room for a few minutes. Tom immediately went into the room, then came right back out and began meowing insistently at the daughter. The daughter went back into her father's room, and he passed away a few minutes later.

We may never understand how cats seemingly sense these things that humans can't, but one thing's for certain: cats can be some of the best companions out there.

All photos courtesy of Salem VA Medical Center via Today

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Meet Tom the Therapy Cat Who Comforts Veterans