We've long known that pets have particular calming and healing qualities, and we've even recently reported on the ways in which dogs can help those whose lives are made difficult by rheumatoid arthritis. However, did you know that our furry friends have so much more to give when it comes to other conditions that affect adults and children across the country – and indeed the world? Researchers at the University of Missouri's Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction are currently raising money to fund a project named Feline Friends, which would study the benefits of rehoming shelter cats with the families of children on the autism spectrum. It's believed that children with pets by and large have better social skills than those without.
Why cats? Surely a dog would make a better companion for a child on the autism spectrum? According to Gretchen Carlisle, a post-doctoral fellow at the research center, that idea couldn't be any further from the truth. Children on the autism spectrum are often hypersensitive to sensory input, for example, and can find it difficult to function when faced with a pet that is very extroverted. Cats, meanwhile, are much smaller than the average dog, tend to be far quieter, and are very rarely known to bark at random intervals – or so we've heard.
The team behind the study is adamant that the benefits of introducing a pet to a child on the autism spectrum would far outweigh the burdens. Cats, as long as their behavior has been deemed to be acceptable by the study's researchers, fit the bill.
While it certainly seems feasible that the rehoming of cats with children on the spectrum could benefit feline and child alike, the aim of the study is to provide families with research-based information that would allow them to make up their own minds before choosing a pet for their home – and for their child. The project requires $29,000 in order to go ahead; this would enable researchers to enter shelters and rehoming centers in search of suitable cat candidates. The funds would also help the researchers to support these families as they embark upon their adventure with their new pet. You can donate to this worthy cause here.