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2012 ISSUE 1

Pet Project

When recovery is helped by a furry friend.

ROGER HILL AND RAY BEY HILL TAKE naps together, have picnics in the park and, when it’s nice outside, they go for walks in their rural Erie County, PA neighborhood. Ray walks next to Hill’s wheelchair and points out all of the birds and squirrels.

Ray happens to be a male ocicat—an unusual breed of domestic cat known for its outgoing temperament and devotion to human companions. After 61-year-old Hill’s massive stroke in 2009, his doctors encouraged him to adopt the eight-week-old kitten. He named the spotted furball Ray, adding “Bey” to his name in honor of his native interpreter when he served in the U.S. Army Special Forces in Vietnam.

Studies have long shown the ability of pets of all kinds to relieve stress and offer motivation and affection to stroke survivors and caregivers. Hill says Ray eases depression, adds humor to day-to-day situations and gives him a sense of responsibility and companionship. (Ocicats in particular are especially trainable, smart and fun-loving pets.)

Ray also makes a fine therapy partner. After his stroke, Hill was paralyzed on his left side. Determined to regain control, he attends some type of therapy daily with the help of his wife, Georgia, such as physical and occupational therapy and water exercises, as well as exercises that include Ray. The couple recommends pet therapy for all stroke survivors, noting that it’s important to research breeds, traits and personality beforehand—Ray’s doglike nature makes him a great fit for therapy; the cat walks on a leash next to the wheelchair, and Hill has also been using his left arm to play fetch with Ray, who eagerly chases toys and brings them back.

“He is very dedicated and a real fighter,” Georgia Hill says of her husband. “Doctors are amazed at his continued recovery. Ray helps a lot, too. We are proud of both of their accomplishments.”

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