Cleo, the Accidental Therapy Cat

Jul 20, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Lee Juslin, Pets

by Lee Juslin

Cleo was an Oops kitten. Just as Michelle was getting ready to take Cleo’s mom to be spayed, it was discovered that she was pregnant. All the kittens in the litter were cute, but from the beginning there was something special about little Cleo. Michelle kept several of the kittens, and of course that included Cleo, who continued to distinguish herself as “special”. She was gentle, loving, and despite having all her claws intact, never showed them–at least, not to people. As Michelle said, “She sat in the palm of my hand and there was just something unique about her!”

At about three months, Michelle began to think about getting Cleo into pet therapy. Her therapy dog at the time was getting older and slowing down, and Michelle did not want her pet therapy experiences to end. “I knew I would miss it terribly, but getting a cat into therapy is not as easy as it is with a dog,” she explained.

Cleo Ready to Cuddle

Michelle heard about a local pet therapy organization called Paws for Applause and they agreed to accept Cleo. Now, seventeen years later and as one of the longest serving therapy pets in her group, Cleo is still going strong. Paws for Applause, the once local group, has become part of Love on a Leash, a national therapy pet organization and one of the few that accepts cats and other non canine therapy pets.

Michelle and Cleo participate in a local library reading program called Whispers & Tails along with several other therapy group teams. The other teams are all dogs and Cleo, as the only cat, is very popular with the youngsters. So, the usual procedure on a visit is for Cleo to sit out the first session to give the dogs a chance. And, the dogs of course, have learned Cleo is the queen.

Cleo in the reading program

Cleo also visits at a nearby Ronald MacDonald House which provides housing for families of children who are critically ill and in the hospital. Michelle and Cleo, along with two other therapy pet teams, sit in the lobby to greet arrivals and to allow families to visit and spend quality time with the therapy pets. Michelle says she remembers one little girl who only wanted to visit with Cleo. One day, Michelle and Cleo were unable to visit and the little girl was very disappointed and showed no interest in the therapy dogs that were visiting. The staff called Michelle to arrange a special visit from Cleo. On the appointed day, Cleo’s number one fan told her mom they had to eat dinner early so she would be ready for Cleo’s arrival. “That day we spent two to three hours just with that little girl so she could hug and talk to Cleo. It was pretty special.”

Cleo, Ronald, and friends

Cleo turned seventeen on April 26 of this year, but she shows no signs of slowing down and enjoys her visits today as much as she did all those many years ago on her first visit.

To learn more about the Ronald MacDonald house that Cleo visits, go here: Ronald MacDonald.

You can find more animal rescue, therapy animal, and other pet related articles in our pet section.

Want to know how to see your ad like this at the end of an article? Email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] for more info. 10% of all ad sales goes to animal rescue.

Lee Juslin is a free lance copywriter living in North Carolina with her husband, Scott, and her band of misfits: Tarquin, a Wheaten Scottish Terrier, and three handicapped cats. They can be seen on their website: Hampshire Hooligans. She owns I B Dog Gone, a small embroidery business and is the author of the Nurse Frosty books for children and Frosty’s Story: Tales of a Therapy Dog. She supports a number of national and regional terrier rescue organizations.


  1. cats are so special; and to have one that’s a therapy cat is even more special. I’ve really enjoyed Lee’s articles this summer, always a bright, but frequently poignant, spot in my week.

  2. That`s amazing that Cleo is going strong at 17. That`s an awful lot of love for an awfully long time. Great story, Lee.

  3. What a wonderful caring person you are to do such important work and bring joy to so many.

  4. Oh! Cleo is sooo purrdy! She could visit me ANY time!

  5. That is cool! I have 2 therapy dogs and wanted to train my cat but she didn’t end up having the right personality, its a lot harder to train cats then my dogs. I am glad she can be a Therapy cat

  6. Beautiful story. Cleo may be getting older, but she’s also getting better. I had to share this article with my cat, Hudgin – age 20 and going strong – and she was impressed!


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