Diane McGuire wasn't looking for a cat when she dropped off holiday treats at the Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA in 2004. Kenny, a sleek cat with green eyes, grabbed her attention.

KennyNo one wanted Kenny because of a minor liver imbalance. Diane already had a house full of pets including dogs, birds, and a horse. Three days after meeting Kenny, she was in the neighbourhood again and checked on Kenny, hoping he had been adopted. He was still at the shelter.

On Christmas Eve, Kenny joined Diane's multi-pet household. Ever since, the dapper gentleman has healed wounded souls throughout Phoenix.

Kenny spread kindness and compassion among troubled youth through Gabriel's Angels whose mission is to free abused, abandoned, and at-risk children from the cycle of violence through healing pet therapy. Teens with behaviour problems stroked Kenny and learned how to be gentle.

 

"He's extremely patient with everyone," says Pam Gaber, president and founder of Gabriel's Angels. "Kids take turns brushing Kenny's coat and learning how to treat animals with kindness and respect. For kids with a lot of inconsistency in their lives, they rely on Kenny and Diane's visits." Kenny has been Gabriel's Angels only therapy cat.

Kenny advanced to more challenging pet therapy at Hospice of the Valley where he consoled patients at the end stages of life. Family and friends of the patients also benefited from Kenny's soothing presence. Terminal illness is hard on everyone.

"Kenny was an exceptional therapy cat," says Katie Howland O'Brien, former pet therapy coordinator. "I watched many people connect with Kenny. It was a relief from sadness and fear."

The justice system recognizes that juvenile crimes against animals must receive age-appropriate treatment. There's an inextricable link between animal abuse and child abuse. Court officers often invite Diane and Kenny to build empathy and trust among youthful offenders.

Kenny, the only therapy cat, is a welcome addition to Children's Hospital behavioural unit. A specialist in purrs and meows, Kenny shifts the focus away from problems to pleasure. Children learn patience and tolerance because of Kenny. "They take turns brushing him, talking to him," Diane says.

Not only is Kenny special but also so is his human companion Diane. What started as a normal childhood virus spiraled into a serious illness for her. She spent most of her life with profound hearing loss, unable to pick up sounds like panting dogs or the crinkle of paper.

Kenny_and_DianeTechnological advances introduced change for people with disabilities. At the age of 48 Diane received a cochlear implant, a device to restore partial hearing. She went from 0 percent to 98 percent hearing in most ranges with the implant. "It provided a profound change in all areas of my life," she says. "I expanded my range of animal-related activities especially the focus on pet therapy."

Age is slowing Kenny. He retired from Hospice of the Valley and Gabriel's Angels but not without gala going away parties. His gentle manners and compassionate skills will be missed.

In 2007 Kenny won honourable mention for the Delta Society's Beyond Limits Award for outstanding therapy animals and that same year, he was featured in CAT FANCY, a national magazine. He continues occasional work with troubled youth.

The cat nobody wanted has brought meaning to so many lives. That's one heck of a cat.

BIO:

Debra J. White is a freelance writer living in Phoenix. She is a volunteer for the Arizona Animal Welfare League and serves on the Board of the Phoenix Animal Care Coalition. Debra is a retired pet therapist with Gabriel's Angels (01-08). Her therapy dog Luke died in 2010.

Debra wrote this lovely story about Kenny for Angel Animals: www.angelanimals.com and has kindly given me permission to put it on my website. 

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