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This Tabby Cat Helps Care for Dying Veterans and Their Families

Illustration for article titled This Tabby Cat Helps Care for Dying Veterans and Their Families

Oh, Jesus: Meet Tom. Tom is a cat living at the VA hospice in Salem, Virginia, and he helps veterans and their families deal with death. Just go ahead and grab that box of Kleenex because you aren't making it through this one dry-eyed.


The Dodo points to this tear-jerker from the Richmond Post-Dispatch. The seven-year-old rescue was adopted by staffers as a kind of experiment in animal therapy: "One [hospice] in California even has a miniature pony," noted palliative care coordinator Dottie Rizzo. So they turned him loose to wander the halls, and he got to work, visiting patients like World War II veteran Edwin Gehlert:

For more than two years, Tom has lived in the hospice ward, where he roams the hall freely like a doctor making his rounds, nibbles treats sneaked to him by patients and brings comfort to old soldiers and their families during an emotional time.

"I didn't leave the hospital that day in sorrow or tears over losing my daddy," said Pam Thompson, Gehlert's daughter. "I had so much joy in my heart, I almost felt guilty. It was not a sad day. Tom was the reason for that."


"My husband had a beautiful passing because of that cat," said Gehlert's wife, Elizabeth. "I had such joy in my heart." Staffers swear Tom often appears when patients are dying and, regardless of whether he quite grasps what's going on, it's clear he helps patients and their families through an immensely difficult time and goddammit now I'm fucking crying.

Image via The VA

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When my mom was dying, at my sister's home, with hospice care, my sister's dog wouldn't leave the room. He was a Basenji. He stationed himself at the end of the bed and you had to check with him before you could see my mom. She wasn't conscious, but Brownie kept watch over her. When she died, he left the room and wouldn't go back in.

Animals are amazing.