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Department's first therapy cat just makes things worse

Instead of relieving stress, the Crisis After-action Team protocol is having the opposite effect, while leading to infected wounds and severe dermatitis


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MORRISTOWN, Mo. — EMTs from Morristown EMS are questioning management's decision to deploy a therapy cat to EMS crews that have a difficult patient encounter just nine weeks into the new Crisis After-action Team protocol.

Good Sam, a gray and black striped cat of unknown age, spent the past winter prowling behind a grocery store next to the ambulance garage, killing rats and cultivating an aggressive demeanor.

"When he slid under the door and into the garage, I suspected this cat could be special for our personnel," Thomas S. Elliot, chief of Morristown EMS, said. "As I watched a couple of EMTs chase the cat around the garage as it got into food and tore up the furniture, it looked they were having so much fun. I knew this cat could be a real boost for morale."

Good Sam, a gray and black striped cat of unknown age, spent the past winter prowling behind a grocery store next to the ambulance garage.
Good Sam, a gray and black striped cat of unknown age, spent the past winter prowling behind a grocery store next to the ambulance garage.

While most therapy animals are universally-beloved, jovial golden retrievers with a constant smile and tail wag that says "guess what I just ate," therapy cats are far less common due to their moodiness, sharp and oft-deployed claws and general lack of regard for anyone aside from themselves.

Still, Elliot believes he is on to something.

"A cat is really the ideal therapy animal," Elliot explained. "Once we confined Good Sam to the day room he is easier to care for than a dog. Good Sam doesn't need to go outside, he can spend long hours of time alone and his cat box in the bunk room doesn’t make the room smell any worse than it did before. "

Crisis After-action Team protocol

In addition to station companionship, Elliot devised a new protocol for supervisors to implement after stressful calls, such as a patient death or co-worker injury.

"For the crisis after-action team we use the radio call, 'get the CAT,' to launch the search for Good Sam," he said, triggering crews to drop everything, including paperwork and restocking, to find Good Sam.

Despite Elliot’s confidence in the program, department personnel are less convinced that Sam is really providing much therapeutic value.

"He has 48 different hiding places and when I see him he usually darts out of sight before I can grab his scruffy neck," paramedic Jenny Anydots said. "Now, instead of beginning to process my emotions from a stressful call, the rage from chasing this God forsaken cat around the building just pushes all those emotions way down deep."

Once the cat is corralled and confined to an EMT’s lap, the group is usually too exhausted to productively discuss their feelings.

Instead the EMTs have learned to sit like hostages being held at gunpoint because each time a chair squeaks Good Sam pins his ears back, launches across the circle and digs his claws into someone's face, hand, arm or leg.

"We can only survive a couple of those lunges," a paramedic, who didn't want to be identified, told us. "Half the group is terror-stricken and the other half is irrigating their puncture wounds."  

Paramedic Minerva McGonagall thought of herself as a natural with animals and grew up with dogs and house cats. "Something is different about this cat," McGonagall said. "I was out of service for six hours because of itchy hives running the length of my arms."

"Our owner thinks this cat is a Good Samaritan," McGonagall said. "But we renamed him Yankauer because of how he sucks away happiness." 

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