Most days Dorothy can be found roaming the halls of Haven Hill Retirement Centre, stopping at various rooms along the way to spend time with residents.
Haven Hill has been home for Dorothy, “the comfort cat,” for 11 years, moving in as a kitten when the staff member who adopted her from the SPCA couldn’t keep her and brought her to work.
The tortoiseshell, now a senior herself (60 to 72 in cat years), has resided at Haven Hill longer than anyone else living there and has been there even longer than many employees.
|Sheryn McLeod, a resident of Haven Hill, spends some fun time with Dorothy the centre’s longtime feline live in. (Mark Brett – Western News)
In addition to her rather unique characteristics, such as sitting and shaking a paw for a treat, hitching a ride on a resident’s walker or knocking the top off her automatic feeder, she’s been known to do something else very special.
Dorothy appears to sense when a resident was very ill and would lay by their sides for their final days and hours.
Evelyne Turner, who along with husband Harvey Baessler, volunteers at the centre, recalled one time in particular when the tortie did just that.
Dorothy twice visited the room of a woman who was near death and spent many nights with the woman and her daughter who was at her bedside.
“We talked to the daughter afterwards and she said she sat there and talked to the cat and it kept her emotions in check,” recalled Turner. “She said if it wasn’t for Dorothy she didn’t know how she would get through the night. She said the cat was a godsend for her during that time.”
The centre almost lost their beloved Dorothy, after a particularly close call one day on the Haven Hill grounds. It’s believed a raptor grabbed the cat and tried to fly away with her, but she was too heavy and was dropped.
|Haven Hill volunteer Harvey Baessler gets a paw shake from Dorothy, a trick he taught her some time ago. (Mark Brett – Western News)|
“She’s actually on a bit of diet right now, just in time for bathing suit season. We’ve loved her a little too much, she’s a larger lady. We put a note up the other day thanking people for watching her waistline.”
In the two years she has worked at the centre, Nelson has seen repeatedly how the friendly feline affects the lives of almost everyone she comes in contact with.
“For the residents, they have so many losses in their lives coming into a care home,” said Nelson. “I just think it gives them that feeling of normalcy, that feeling of being able to care for someone or something else. A lot of them miss that.
“Many residents also have their days of having care and maybe treatment, so it’s that time in the day when they can just watch her play and maybe sit and pet her. Having moments with her where it’s not so much about them, they can actually give to someone else and it helps with the loneliness.”
Resident Marlene Quaggan particularly enjoys the cat’s company.
“She’s all part of what happens around here and it’s not the first time I’ve fallen in love,” she said.
Residents are not the only ones who like having the cat around.
“For staff, it sometimes is a hard job and I think it just brings that little bit of relief in the day,” said Nelson. “Just to have a chuckle at whatever it is she is doing. It breaks up their day and it just brings a little bit of joy.”
And what does Dorothy get for the hours she puts in each day?
“She just has the best life,” said Nelson. “She likes to laze around and find the sunbeams and just be pretty much adored. That’s a rough life.”
While she wasn’t able to say it herself, Dorothy shared some of her thoughts about life at Haven Hill with Baessler, one of her very close human friends, the one who taught her the paw shake.
From Dorothy’s perspective he wrote:
“I am a ‘people cat,’ comforting the sad and the ill, loving everyone who lets me show love. Some residents need my special loving attention, so I curl in bed with them, assuring them of my love and concern and that they are not alone.
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