Fostering Kittens Brings Joy and Purpose to Seniors Needing Care

Life has been more playful in the Huron house lately – with residents feeding off the energy inherent in spending time with fluffy kittens. Early last summer, The Piper Assisted Living and Memory Support joined the Senior Foster Friends program and began fostering sets of kittens with the Great Plains SPCA. They’ve fostered four different sets so far, and the results have been outstanding.

Even residents who don’t particularly like cats are entertained watching the fur balls play. They ask after them and have a fun reason to entice great grandchildren to visit. And staff are drawn to the kittens too. One nurse likes to do her notes in the den, which the cats call home, so she can hang out with them at the same time.

Household Coordinator Lena Hummel says there is research that online cat videos make you happier and more productive. She’s not wrong. An Indiana University study found that watching videos of cats boosted energy and positive emotions. And of course watching kitties play in real life is even better, she says.

“You can see the effect on the residents clearly: they smile more, they talk excitedly about them. They always wonder what they’re up to. It gives them a purpose and something to look forward to in their day.”

lou kitty

And the kittens have different impacts on different residents.

One resident, we’ll call Earl, is a bit anxious and not interested in socializing. Occasionally Earl will take a walk with a homemaker, but usually won’t even eat with neighbors in the dining room. Anything in big groups is a nonstarter. But staff discovered quickly that Earl liked cats more than people. He is always game to come out and play with the kitties. Initially, he’d visit the den during a quiet time and close the French doors so he could entertain the kittens with their toys undisturbed. Over time Earl has started hanging out with the cats even when there’s another neighbor in the room. The kittens give them something to discuss, and without realizing it, Earl’s socializing and bonding with new people.

Another resident makes a point of checking on the cats first thing in the morning. She wants to make sure they are fed. She considers it her role to watch after them and is always attending to their wellbeing.

Residents like these are often thought of as dependent, without much to give back. Well-meaning community groups regularly offer to volunteer at assisted livings and nursing homes, seeing residents as a charity case. These residents are flipping the script. They’re the ones doing the good deed.

It’s human nature to contribute to your community. The residents in Huron do this by partnering with an animal shelter that needs their help.

“This program has proven to be beneficial to both the residents and the kittens they are so graciously caring for. These kittens come back to the shelter very well socialized and ready to go into their forever homes.  The residents are also finding this partnership to be such a positive experience, giving them the opportunity to nurture these animals in their time of need. We are so grateful to The Piper for all of their help,” says Kriste Everett, Director of Foster Care at Great Plains SPCA.

Talk about animals in senior living and people will ask: what about allergies and who’s going to take care of them? It hasn’t been an issue in Huron. The kitties’ space in the den is a small comfy room where the doors can be shut. Residents and staff that are allergic to cats don’t wander in there. The kittens are cared for by residents, with the help of two animal-loving staff members; Kim Steakle, who arranged the program, and Joanie, a rock star homemaker in Huron. Staying attentive to when a resident doesn’t think to feed the kitties, or the litter box needs to be changed, these team members take initiative to keep the animals fed and safe.

And it turns out the kittens are so loved, the shelter didn’t have to look far to find families for the last set. They were each adopted by team members at The Piper.

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