emotional support cats

Finding purr-pose

When she was diagnosed with MS, Regina Beach found meaning in fostering some adorable cats and kittens that were in desperate need of help.

As a child, my family always had cats as pets. We had a Russian blue named Mr Cat, a chocolate Siamese named Catpuccino and an American shorthair called Hobbes. When I moved out on my own, I adopted a former show rabbit named Chaplin and took in an abandoned kitten I named Morty.

When I moved to the UK in 2020 my husband and I lived in rental property and didn’t have any pets. Fast forward to January 2022, and I was eight months into my highly active multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis that had left me with incomplete remission, mobility issues and a less than optimistic view of the future.

My husband – who is far from what you’d call a cat person – wanted to gift me a cat for my birthday. We had visited my parents in America for a few weeks and he saw how much I enjoyed interacting with their two cats.

Being newly diagnosed and unable to drive or walk well, I felt dependent on my husband for everything. I was not in a good place with my mental health as I was trying to cope with and understand this life-changing diagnosis.

I considered his idea and decided that instead of getting a cat of our own, I wanted to foster cats through our local chapter of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). I would be able to volunteer from the comfort of my own home, while adding something meaningful to my life.

Fostering hope

Cat fosterers temporarily take in animals who either don’t adjust well to cattery life or need extra one-on-one support for social rehabilitation before they can be put up for rehoming. Animals can stay in foster care from a few weeks to several months. The RSPCA provides food, bedding and litter. I was to provide the time and attention needed to get strays or rescues from unsafe multi-cat households to a place where they trusted humans, wanted to play and interact and were ready to start their new life as someone’s pet.

This first year I’ve welcomed eight foster cats into our home, all of whom have gone on to find their forever homes. Delilah, a black kitten, and her older half-sister Jasmine were my first two fosters. The benefits of caring for animals if you are chronically ill include lowering blood pressure and heart rate, helping with pain relief, aiding in stress reduction and anxiety relief, and being a distraction from constantly thinking about your diagnosis.

Providing purr-pose

These playful girls certainly helped me reduce stress. They kept me company as I worked from home and gave me a reason to wake up early to take care of them. Jasmine would jump from the bed to the top of the door where she’d precariously balance to get some time away from her little sister. Delilah sat on the arm of my desk chair melting hearts in every Zoom meeting I attended.

The hardest part of fostering is saying goodbye. I’ll admit I was really sad when I got the good news that each would be adopted. We had bonded and I knew that I would miss them, but there is no shortage of animals who would benefit from foster care and I knew it wouldn’t be long until I got new arrivals.

Quadruple trouble

My next group was a quartet of four-week-old kittens that I named Samson, Tabitha, Zeke, and Silas. They were adorable, if messy, and needed a bit more training on where the litter box was and how to eat without standing ankle deep in the bowl of cat food. Tabitha, the calico runt of the litter, was my favorite, always wanting to be picked up for a cuddle. When they’re so young, you really can see them grow day by day. In less than a month, all four had found their forever homes (kittens always get adopted more quickly than adult cats).

I was getting stronger both mentally and physically as the months wore on and I was becoming happier, too. Next was Bella, a beautiful new momma that spent the first few days casing the house looking for her kittens. It was heartbreaking, but the sooner they’re weaned and fixed, the sooner they can be rehomed, meaning there’s capacity to rescue more cats.

Rewarding work

Mimi stayed with me the longest. She was a 10-year-old whose owner had died and she came to me depressed and scared. She wasn’t grooming herself, was barely eating and did not want to be touched – I had my work cut out for me. I knew what it was like to have my whole world change in a flash, mourning my old life and having to rebuild a new version of myself. Slowly I gained Mimi’s trust as she timidly started coming out of her hideaway for gentle pets, then longer cuddles, eventually brave enough to sleep next to me.

We affectionately call our role as fosterers the ‘kitten subscription’. Fostering allows us to have cats in our home the majority of the time, yet we’re able to take breaks between getting new fosters. This has been especially helpful when we’re traveling. I know I have a team of animal experts I can call with any questions about the cats’ behaviour or health, and I feel great knowing I’m supporting a worthy cause.

Join MS-UK’s Big Purple Dog Walk!

MS-UK’s loneliness and isolation research found that having a pet benefits people with MS by keeping them company, encouraging them to go outside each day and being there for emotional support. One of MS-UK’s main fundraising events is the Big Purple Dog Walk in March. To take part, dog owners can simply set a walking challenge to complete in the month of March and pledge to raise £100.

The best part of this challenge is you get to set the goal that matches your (and your pup’s) fitness and ability level. Examples include

  • A mile every day for the whole month
  • Complete a full marathon distance in one month
  • A lap of the garden every day with your dog

All participant pooches receive an MS-UK bandana and those that raise £100 or more will also receive a rosette and certificate.

Sign up now at www.ms-uk.org/big-purple-dog-walk/ or call 01206 226500 to speak to a member of the fundraising team for more information

For any advice, you can contact our helpline team free on 0800 783 0518 or via email at info@ms-uk.org.