Human-Cat Amputee Duo Teams Up To Help Others Through Animal Therapy

Nevena Nacic
by Nevena Nacic
Marina Demidiuk/Shutterstock

Juanita Mengel from Amanda, Ohio, and her five-year-old dilute tortoiseshell cat Lola-Pearl, make a unique therapy team. The 67-year-old Mengel is missing a leg, and her fluffy feline is missing a left hind leg. 

This special duo is one of an estimated 200 therapy cat teams registered in the US through Pet Partners. This nonprofit organization puts together owners and their pets as volunteer teams. They aim to provide animal-assisted therapy in hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. 

A therapy animal is an animal who’s been assessed based on their ability to meet new people and not just tolerate the interaction but actively enjoy it,” said Taylor Chastain Griffin, the national director of animal-assisted interventions advancement at Pet Partners. 

This organization registered nine different species of animals as therapy animals, including dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, birds, horses, mini pigs, alpacas, and lamas. 

Therapy cats are less common than therapy dogs, and people are often surprised to see cats in this role. However, Griffin studies the impact of therapy cats and emphasizes the importance of cats in therapy teams. 

There’s a lot of research on other therapy animals, especially dogs, so there is often a ‘shock factor’ associated with therapy cats because many people don’t know these felines exist. 

They go into a setting and people are like ‘Whoa, there’s a cat on a leash. What’s happening?’” said Griffin. 

According to her, cats inspire people to connect to them in a way that’s not seen with other kinds of therapy animals. 

Juanita Mengel knew that her cat Lola-Pear would be an excellent therapy animal a month after she adopted her. The feline’s therapeutic potential became clear after Mengel took her to an amputee conference. 

She was so good with people I just knew she would be a good therapy cat,” said Mengel. “People really were attracted to her, too.”

During a recent limb loss support group, Mengel pushed Lola-Pearl around in a cat stroller labeled “Therapy Cat’, so participants could pet the cat as she woke from a nap. 

When she wasn’t sitting in a stroller, Lola-Pearl could be found brushing against participants’ legs or cuddling in their laps, bringing a smile to the face of every person she decided was worthy of her company. 

She’s very intuitive of people,” said Mengel.

Although Lola-Pearl is very special, she isn’t the only cat Mengel owns. Mengel, who lost her leg after years of surgeries following a near-fatal car accident, is a mom to seven cats, most of whom have disabilities. 

They find you, you don’t find them,” she added.

Lola-Pearl was only a few weeks old when she was found with her back legs completely twisted together. The kitten was unable to walk and was brought to Mengel’s friend at a shelter in Missouri. Unfortunately, the vets there couldn’t help the feline. 

The shelter located a specialist in Iowa who was able to splint Lola-Pearl’s legs in order to save them. However, it was clear that the left hind leg was beyond saving and the vets decided to amputate. 

Mengel adopted Lola-Pearl after she recovered from the surgery and they formed the unique therapy team. 

After everything Mengel has been through, she is extremely grateful for Lola-Pearl and appreciates all the good work they do together. 

It’s a really rewarding experience,” she said. “I get just as much out of it as the people that I visit.” 

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Nevena Nacic
Nevena Nacic

Nevena is a freelance writer and a proud mom of Teo, a 17-year-old poodle, and Bob, a rescued grey tabby cat. Since childhood, she had a habit of picking up strays and bringing them home (luckily, her parents didn't know how to say NO). When she's not writing for her fellow pet parents, Nevena can be found watching Teo sleep. To her defense, that's not as creepy as it sounds!

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