Cat therapists can cure your
By Rhea Wessel
May 1, 1998
New York (dpa)-- First, animals were used in
psychotherapy to help people: victims of trauma, the handicapped and the
elderly. Now, more and more pets in New York are getting their turn to lie on
the sofa and be treated by analysts.
Carrying her feline-printed
shoulder bag, Carole Wilbourn, a pet therapist, makes house calls to treat
animal disorders such as separation anxiety, indiscriminate urination and
She believes animals are sensitive, emotional
beings and suffer psychological disorders like humans. She has been treating
cats for more than 20 years.
At a recent session, the petite therapist
played soothing New Age music for an eight-year-old Tonkinese, Bailey. (The
names in this article have been changed to protect patients' identities.)
The soothing music helps Bailey relax, and, according to Carole, makes
it easier for him to cope.
When Carole first began treating Bailey
years ago, he suffered from single cat syndrome. She recommended the family get
another cat to ease Bailey's loneliness and boost his ego. He could be "top
cat" if he had a feline counterpart.
Enter Henry, a shy Siamese and a
good playmate for Bailey. Henry's presence helped Bailey relax and lead a more
balanced life. But the two now suffer from separation anxiety since their owner
Thanks to Carole, and 29 sessions of therapy at 95
dollars an hour, the cats are adjusting.
"I saw a breakthrough by the
fourth session," she said, looking over her hand-written session notes. Human
clients are left a progress report for each session and given tips on how to
continue therapy until the next treatment.
Carole says she has a
humanistic, naturalist approach and tries to make a happy cat instead of
working to change behavior.
"You have to treat the mind, body and
spirit," she says, adding, "Right, Bailey?"
The cat stretches a leg and
yawns. Carole believes talking to your animals is very important.
her naturalistic approach, she avoids tranquilizers and Valium for treating cat
aggression. Carole does prescribe medicine, homeopathic, of course, and refers
families to veterinarians when necessary.
Carole took an interest in
cats when she studied psychology in college and she began working with animal
shelters. In 1973, she co- founded the first animal hospital in New York
exclusively for cats.
Her practice has been featured in the New York
Times, the National Geographic and on radio and television programs, including
the U.S. network morning shows and the BBC. Her books include Cat Talk and the
Carole, who wears a tiny golden feline pendant, will soon
lose patients Bailey and Henry because they are being adopted. She is trying to
prepare them for their new life in a family with two children.
happy about the adopting mother, an employee of the deceased owner. Nedra, a
close friend and the family's housekeeper, will take the cats in. The so-called
cat shrink believes the adoption will work as a sort of therapy for Nedra, who
is also experiencing separation anxiety.
By caring for Bailey and
Henry, Nedra has a way to continue caring for her lost friend, Carole says,
citing a widely believed philosophy. Another New York pet therapist, Dr. Linda
Goodloe says, "Sometimes I treat people instead of animals."
"A man who
had a phobia for dogs called me to find out how to read dog signals. He wanted
to know how the dog felt," she said.
By working with the man, Linda
helped him to confront his fear. She recommended relaxation exercises and did
counter conditioning. She encouraged him to imagine seeing a dog and imagine
In another case, a woman empathized so much with her
daughter's dog, who was frequently left home alone, she became obsessive. It
turned out that the mother was traumatized because she was often left alone at
home as a child, Linda said.
Linda and Carole are competitors in the
emerging market of pet therapy and they are carving out their market niches.
Linda is a behavioral scientist while Carole takes a New Age approach.
Linda is one of about 30 caregivers across the United States who are
Certified Animal Behaviorists, a designation given by the Animal Behavior
Society in the U.S. state of Colorado.
She has a success rate of 80 per
cent for cat elimination problems and has been consulting for seven years.
Linda treats cats, dogs, rabbits, ferrets and occasionally birds and she is
expanding her practice to the state of Pennsylvania.
And if all goes
well, clients and therapists alike will reach a state of inner peace.