Cat Therapy brings joy. The purrfect antidote.

3 minutes read
Posted 22 May, 2024
Enjoying some local cat therapy cuddles 1

Enjoying some local cat therapy cuddles

A bunch of furry felines have been warming hearts as well as laps with a Frankton woman, who’s been through one of life’s greatest challenges herself, inundated with demand for her free ‘cat therapy’.

It’s becoming increasingly popular as the ‘purrfect’ remedy for everyone from neurodiverse schoolkids and troubled teens to the bereaved and lonely, and those with mental health issues.

Cancer survivor Andrea Balona, assisted in part by about 300 volunteers, now has more than 40 cats on her property between her QT Community Cats rescue cattery and the cat therapy room that her patient husband created by renovating their sleep-out.

It all started post lonely lockdowns in 2020. Now between 20 and 50 people, including children, a day are coming for cat therapy, each booking the private space to sit with and enjoy the warmth and love of up to a dozen or so purring cats at a time.

Once a week Andrea and the team take the cats to the Lake Wakatipu Care Centre to join in the elderly resident’s singalong jam session with colourful musician Mark Wilson on the piano. Children especially love to read to the cats at the weekly Frankton Library sessions, which are always booked out.

It's a huge job with Balona’s shortest day lasting about 12 hours, sometimes 24 hours if she has ailing rescue kittens to tend to at night, but she insists it’s so incredibly rewarding that all the effort is totally worthwhile.

“It’s been a wonderful therapy for those affected by family violence, those with emotional and mental health issues,” she says. “It’s very healing. Research shows that purring is at a frequency that helps regenerate cells and heal,” Balona says. “We have private professionals bringing in clients as it helps break down walls.” People open up and talk more freely with a cat on their lap. “We just sit and listen. We’re not trained therapists, but if people need more, we refer them to those.”

Andrea also works with the Department of Corrections and Youth Corrections Service.

Last year the charitable service cost QT CATs more than $130,000 in vet bills for desexing and vaccinations, as well as cat food, and Balona and her supporters are constantly fundraising. Despite the visible mental and physical health benefits observed by many local practitioners who use the service, there’s been no government health or local government funding grants available so far.

The cat rescue operation also fosters cats of all ages out to local homes, and often they become great company for elderly living alone. “We really want to build on our age care programme as we struggle to find homes for older cats,” Balona says. “Seniors can foster them while we pay the vet and food bills.”

“We rescue the cats, but they rescue us back.”

Increasingly, landlords are banning pets from houses when they’re so important for families and healing, she says.

Andrea’s had neurodiverse teens and primary-aged children whose teachers have noticed a marked improvement since they’ve been coming to the cat therapy room.

“The most common comment is, ‘I want to stay here forever,” she says.

To volunteer or donate wet or raw food and kitty litter, or make use of the service:

To donate money:


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