Meditation is something that we hear a lot about, but it’s not something everyone is exactly familiar with. Everyone has their own image of what meditation is, usually based off of something we saw in a movie or a TV show. When was the last time you meditated? Maybe never?
There must be something to meditation because many cultures practice it regularly, and even more cultures practice it without even knowing they are meditating. That’s because it’s all about being in the moment, which can be achieved through many different means. Did you ever think you could learn to meditate from a cat?
On top of that, did you ever think that a meditating cat could help children from families of domestic abuse? Children who are, or have been in situations of domestic abuse, can suffer from trauma that needs healing. That’s where this very special cat comes in. He helps them through their trauma using meditation.
You won’t believe the scene I’m about to set for you. A hairless cat named Thea sits calmly - some would say meditatively - as she closes her eyes and a voice prompts the online class to “take one more breath” as the cat sits calmly, setting the example for the class. The voice continues, “be aware of your whole body as best you can. Take a breath, and then, when you’re ready… you can open your eyes.” The voice calls for Thea and the cat dutifully opens her eyes, like a complete pro.
Thea is a 4 year old Sphynx cat who is part of CCN’s Paws for Empowerment team as of late 2019. CCN is a nonprofit called the Crisis Center North which provides counseling for domestic violence and is an educational resource center located in Pennsylvania.
Thea the 4-year-old Sphynx has had some changes to her routine since the pandemic. She would usually work with children 2-19 in counseling sessions, whoever, now she meets virtually. Sydney Stephenson is Thea’s handler. She says that Thea’s job is to usually work with kids who have had a parent who suffered from domestic abuse, or who have experienced their own form of abuse or assault.
Stephenson told TODAY, “Kids come to me because they’re in a difficult place — having a really hard time. And nobody likes to talk about difficult things. But having Thea in the sessions is just such a calming presence. It reassures them. It can help them bond with me faster because they see how much she trusts me.” Believe it or not, Thea’s skin is actually very soft, like velvet, even if it might look a bit strange.
Thea is a very smart cat. She’s learned various tricks, including jumping from chair to chair so that she can play “floor is lava” with the kids. She’s also incredibly affectionate. “Thea will ride on my shoulder and kids love to see that.” It took a while for Thea to understand Stephenson’s training methods, but once she got it, she was able to learn plenty of tricks using a clicker and a reward system. The rest of Thea’s skills come from intuition. On her first day in the office, she jumped right into a kid’s lap!
Grace Coleman leads the CCN and truly believes that animals are a key part to helping young people heal from their trauma. “By utilizing animals, we’re teaching compassion and care and how to love appropriately without harming. The children can start developing a caretaking, loving relationship with animals.”