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Countywide : Show Cats Just Purrfect for Therapy

Fourteen cats from the International Cat Show came to the Providence Speech and Hearing Center in Orange Thursday to help children overcome their language, speech and hearing problems.

But when the 90 or so curious youngsters came face to face with their fluffy and friendly feline “therapists,” it soon became clear that the encounter would have as much to do with fun as with learning.

“I love this kitty,” said 2 1/2-year-old Breaneka Rossano, who cradled, stroked and kissed a shy 6-week-old exotic shorthair Persian cat.

Breaneka was immediately attracted to the tiny black and white kitten and only reluctantly gave it up after holding the animal close for several minutes. “I want that cat!” she said with a smile.

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Breaneka wasn’t alone. Many of the children quickly formed bonds with the cats, whether it was the quiet 15-pound all-bred or the gray and white Norwegian forest.

But beyond the companionship, officials at the center hope to use the cat encounter in therapy sessions designed to improve the children’s language and speech skills.

“Communication is all about life and how we are able to communicate mutual experiences,” said O.T. Kenworthy, executive director of the center.

Thursday’s event will be at the heart of several activities when the children will discuss what they saw and how they felt while with the cats. Kenworthy said the experience should stay in the children’s minds. “This gets their attention,” he said. “This is something they will remember and talk about.”

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The center has employed the “cat therapy” for three years. And it has often resulted in improvements in the way the children communicate, Kenworthy said. “They really enjoy it,” he added.

That was evident Thursday morning as the children entered the room where the cats and their owners waited. The children’s faces lit up in unison as they focused on the felines, all of whom are contestants in next week’s International Cat Show in Anaheim.

Elinor Silverman, spokeswoman for the show, said that the owners were asked to bring their best-behaved and most-loving cats. “We asked for the friendly ones. We didn’t want the cats to come here and scream,” she said. “We wanted the children to have a tremendous time.”

And many said they did.

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Rebecca Warden, a 2-year-old from Santa Ana, proudly held a purring Norwegian forest cat “like a baby” and made a discovery when looking into the animal’s doll-like face. “He has long whiskers like Daddy,” she said.


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