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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Power of the purr: Therapy cat at advocacy center comforts kids

<p dir="ltr">Hank, the Child Advocacy Center's "AdvoCat," roams the office looking for treats. The orange cat found a home at the Center in June and often plays with kids who visit the office. </p>

Hank, the Child Advocacy Center's "AdvoCat," roams the office looking for treats. The orange cat found a home at the Center in June and often plays with kids who visit the office. 

Among the toys, books, crafts and games in the waiting room of the Gainesville Child Advocacy Center, an orange cat named Hank wanders around, looking for attention and cat treats.

He roams freely around the office and therapy rooms, sometimes sitting in on forensic interviews or napping in a chair in the waiting room. To call him, the therapists shake a bag of treats.

Hank, the “Advo-Cat,” comes running.

“He is just so gentle,” said Amber Miller, the program developer at the Center for Abused and Neglected Children. “You can roll him onto his back and hold him like a little baby. He’s like the best part of a dog and a cat merged.”

Miller said therapists introduce Hank to kids who had pets in the past they may have lost contact with. When kids come in for play-therapy appointments and Hank is introduced, therapists find they make more progress in treatment.

“We bring him in the room, and they open up so much more,” Miller said. “It calms them.”

Although predominantly known as “Advo-Cat,” Hank has many names.

“Kids call him Orangey, Mr. Whiskers, Ginger, AC or just cat,” said SaraNeal Johnston, the lead therapist for the center. “We call him Hank.”

Today, he will visit the Humane Society to be checked for a microchip and to make sure his shots are up to date. A salon down the road helps care for him, Miller said, and he stays outside to hunt when the advocacy center is closed.

“He’s turned into a community cat,” she said. “He’s part of all our families now. He’s no longer a stray; he has a home and a name.”

She said, in June, she went outside the center for lunch, and Hank was sitting in front of the door.

“I knelt down to pet him and he curled up in my lap,” she said. “Then we didn’t see him again for a while, but eventually he came back, and he comes back every day for the food and the company.”

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She said his laid-back attitude and gentle demeanor work wonders for the kids who come in, even during the busiest parts of the day when the waiting room’s capacity is strained.

“All of our kids have been traumatized in some way, shape, fashion or form,” Johnston said. “When (Hank) comes in, their whole attitude changes. I think they just sense the unconditional love and acceptance that he — like all animals — brings.”

No matter the situation, she said, the center provides love and acceptance to the kids they work with.

“When you add Hank to the mix, it just doubles it,” she said. “It’s the healing power of the purr.”

Hank, the Child Advocacy Center's "AdvoCat," roams the office looking for treats. The orange cat found a home at the Center in June and often plays with kids who visit the office. 

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