Ashley Reichart, whose grandmother Doris Smethurst lived at River Ridge, is sad the cats are no longer living at the centre. “Some of the residents there donմ have any family to come and visit them, so I think the cats made a huge difference for them,” said Reichart.SUBMITTED PHOTO

Original Published on Jul 18, 2022 at 09:06

By KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A partnership which brought together a family of rescue cats and local seniors centre residents ended with sadness and anger following the centre’s decision to relinquish the animals five months after adopting them.

Mama and her three kittens, Mallory, Cheryl and Doc, arrived at River Ridge Seniors Village in February, invited by then director of care Jodi Thorimbert, who believed their companionship might lift residents’ spirits.

“After being through several lockdowns due to COVID … I began looking for opportunities to help combat (loneliness),” Thorimbert said. “I noticed our rescue centres were bursting at the seams with cats, and I thought it would be a win-win situation.”

After consulting with staff, residents and resident families – all of whom, Thorimbert says, were in support – the centre signed a 30-day trial agreement with the Southern Alberta Humane Society, with potential to adopt.

“The difference was amazing – especially in our dementia patients,” Thorimbert said of the cats’ arrival. “We had palliative patients who, when they were dying, would have one of the cats (stay) on the bed beside them. We had aggressive dementia patients who would calm with the cats around. (And) we had residents in long-term care who felt the cats lowered their blood pressure.”

Thorimbert says centre staff were impressed by the cats’ impact, and the feline quartet was officially adopted following the end of the 30 days.

All was well with the cats when Thorimbert parted with River Ridge in April, but on June 6, a letter was sent by site hospitality manager Jocelyn Jacobson stating the cats would be re-homed.

In the letter, Jacobson stated, “This has always been a trial period and because (of) some restrictions that cannot be implemented, we have to find them another home(s).”

SAHS president De Seaton refutes Jacobson’s statement, saying the centre completed the adoption process in early March. Upon being informed of the centre’s intention to remove the cats, Seaton intervened and informed management that facilitating a private adoption was a breach of the original adoption agreement, and if the centre no longer wished to house the animals, they must surrender them to SAHS.

Seaton says the centre signed away ownership rights July 8 and SAHS removed the cats from the site.

“It’s really hard on the cats,” Seaton said. “This was their home. They loved it. They loved the residents. They settled in so well. And for the residents, this was some of their reason just to get up every day.”

The News contacted River Ridge for comment but site leader Kim Sloan said all comments would be handled by Kathy Nduwayo, Park Place Seniors Living vice president of operations.

The News reached out to Nduwayo by phone and email, but received no response.

Nduwayo told local media that caring for the cats became a challenge for staff, resulting in health and safety concerns.

A May 30 routine public health inspection does cite the cats as “not being properly contained when appropriate or are not being properly managed.”

However, the inspection provides numerous recommendations of how to address the violations, including keeping the cats contained during mealtimes, routinely sanitizing tables, erecting signs to notify visitors of the cats, etc.

“At no point in this report, does it say the cats have to be removed,” an AHS representative confirmed to the News. “It’s just saying if you want to keep the cats in the facility, how it needs to be done so there’s no risk of contamination.”

Thorimbert said she was surprised to hear of the violations, as she claims feeding and cleaning schedules, as well as a designated cat room, had been organized prior to her departure.

Thorimbert is saddened by the cats’ removal and worries about the effect on both residents and the animals. She’s not the only one. As of Wednesday evening, more than 600 people had commented on a SAHS Facebook post announcing the partnership’s end, most expressing dismay.

“I am so incredibly sad to see they decided to remove the cats,” Ashley Reichart wrote. “My grandmother lived there … I remember the day she first saw (the cats) and she was so happy. She immediately picked one up and cradled it in her lap and called it her ‘baby.’ She had severe dementia and I hadn’t seen her have a reaction like that to anything for quite a long time … What an absolute shame.”

Now split up in pairs, Mama, Mallory, Cheryl and Doc are once again searching for forever homes.

This item reprinted with permission from The News, Medicine Hat, Alberta