A once-stray cat rescued by a shelter and adopted by a loving family is now helping humans at a California airport.
Duke Ellington Morris, a 14-year-old black-and-white cat, became the first feline to join the San Francisco International Airport’s (SFO) team of therapy animals known as the “Wag Brigade” at the end of May.
In 2010, Duke was rescued from the streets of San Francisco where he was found starving among other feral cats and brought to the San Francisco Animal Care and Control. There, a 5-year-old girl spotted the tuxedo cat and her family quickly took him home.
“I hear my daughter shrieking with joy, ‘I love the black and white kitty.’ And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Duke’s owner Jen Morris told SF Gate. “We met Duke, and he was focused on my daughter. And I figured, well, if a cat wants a 5-year-old for his next guardian, he couldn’t be that bad.”
Duke’s humans were quickly impressed by his calm and warm demeanor and got him certified as a therapy animal through the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ animal assisted therapy program.
The special kitty — named after the jazz great — has been working as an animal therapist for the past decade by visiting patients in hospitals all over the city to comfort them in trying times.
Now, he’ll also be helping airport visitors relieve travel-related stress as he joins the motley crew of SFO’s therapy animals which includes several dogs as well as a rabbit named Alex the Great and a pig named LiLou — who are each certified and tested therapy animals.
The non-human therapists walk around the airport’s terminals wearing “Pet Me” vests as a way to comfort anxious travelers. The program launched in 2013 and returned in 2021 after a 20-month hiatus due to the COVID pandemic.
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