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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 21, 2010

These purry cats are a prescription for comfort

By Leslie Kawamoto

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Merry (in the stroller) gets a chin rub from Mari Longhom. Merry and Chucky are Hawai'i's only therapy cats.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser


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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser


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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser


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Merry and Chucky aren't your typical cats. They love everyone and are extremely eager to please. Best of all, they are spreading aloha in the community. As the only therapy cats in Hawai'i, they are bringing joy to the elderly and sick in hospitals on O'ahu as part of Tails of Aloha, a pet therapy group.

Chucky provides therapy for Mari Longhom, thanks to his owner, Amber Inwood.


Merry, a black domestic shorthair, was a day-old kitten when he came into Christine Clairmont's life. She was working at a New Jersey animal hospital when a construction worker brought in a bunch of abandoned kittens. Merry and his siblings had to be bottle-fed. Eventually the other kittens went to new homes, but Clairmont kept Merry. She must have known that he was a very special cat.

Merry's sweet demeanor was noticed early. Clairmont's mother was in a wheelchair and hospital bed at home. Merry comforted and consoled her by lying on her bed. "I could see how he comforted her when we didn't know how to," Clairmont said.

Clairmont would bring Merry with her to the bustling pet hospital. Even with all that commotion, Merry was calm. A client, who was head of a pet therapy group, noticed how tranquil Merry was and invited him to be part of the group.

In 2008, Merry moved to Hawai'i, when Clairmont's husband was transferred to Schofield Barracks.


Chucky, a gray and white shorthair, was found on the grounds of the Bishop Museum an,d hence, was named after Charles Bishop. Chucky was severely emaciated and had bites and scratches all over from being attacked by the neighborhood cats.

Museum employee Amber Inwood took Chucky home and with the help of her fellow employees, got him the veterinary care he needed. Today, he is a whopping 16 pounds and loves all the attention he gets.

Chucky lives with Inwood and Michael Richlen in Nu'uanu. Richlen, an animal trainer, noticed Chucky's amenable behavior right away. "You can just tell that they're going to be good for this type of work (therapy)," Richlens said. Inwood and Richlen also have a therapy dog named Koa. They are the only therapy cat and dog team in Hawai'i.


Animals are known to help lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety and depression in patients. Pet therapy is used in institutions because of its positive results. Animals are nonjudgmental and loving, and their healing touch may be the best medicine of all.

How do patients react when they see a cat in the hospital? "It's a little bit of a shock to see a cat in a stroller. Some are nervous about touching him, but he (Merry) just lays there and lets them decide. They usually give in and pet him when he rolls over," Clairmont said.

Merry and Chucky made their first visit to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center a week ago yesterday.

Mari Longhom, a patient in the skilled nursing facility, Malama Ohana, sat quietly in the recreation room as Merry and Chucky, with parents in tow, made a grand entrance. After seeing the furry visitors, Longhom immediately lit up. "I am totally a cat person," she said.

Kaiser activity aide Eleanor Miyahara said that Longhom was quite shy since she was admitted two weeks ago. But that Saturday was the first day she spent the morning out of her room, waiting for the cats.

Merry's stroller was wheeled near Longhom's wheelchair and she immediately cradled Merry's head and rubbed his chin. She talked to him in a calm, cooing voice. He seemed to know that he was giving her solace.

Cat therapy is beneficial to cats, too. Chucky was lulled to sleep.

Next, Inwood put Chucky on Longhom's lap. Longhom smiled with joy at the bundle of fur on her lap. Chucky fell asleep after purring his approval. "It must be my cashmere," Longhom said, pointing to her sweater.

Longhom sat in her wheelchair with Chucky for a very long time, stroking his fur, then said with a grin, "I am going to sneak this one out of here."

Animal lover Leslie Kawamoto has been with the Advertiser for 20 years, or 140 in dog years. Check out her blog at http://islandtails.honadvblogs.com.



TAG NO. 10-3266

Part Whippet, Laki is a medium-sized male who is quiet and gentle but also active and playful.


TAG NO. 10-2562

Tika with her wise and piercing eyes is a soulful feline with a friendly touch.


TAG NO. 10-3173

At only a year old, Sasha is one hound dog who is sniffin' for love.

These animals already may have found homes. For directions, special events and to see more pets available for adoption, visit www.hawaiianhumane.org or call 946-2187. Call immediately to report lost or found animals, ext. 4.