‘Nothing more soothing than the purring of a cat’: Feline friends help make Harbourview Lodge Continuing Care Centre home

Kimchi gives Harbourview Lodge resident Bernie Zwicker some kitty cuddles.
Kimchi gives Harbourview Lodge resident Bernie Zwicker some kitty cuddles.

Meet Kimchi, the newest feline resident at Harbourview Lodge Continuing Care Centre in Sheet Harbour.

Residents and staff alike delight at the sight of her scampering about the hallways, the sound of her calming purr, and her endearing habit of curling up on people’s laps.

She is joined by two other cats at the centre, Smokey and Tom-Cat. Since Harbourview Lodge (formerly Duncan MacMillan Nursing Home) first opened in 1983, they valued creating a home setting for residents, and accordingly, let incoming residents bring their cats with them.
On occasion, cats are adopted after a resident has moved into the centre. Kimchi was thoughtfully selected from the SPCA by the family of Bernie Zwicker. Zwicker has lived with pets for years and finds cats to be a source of joy.

“Coming to a nursing home or care facility does not mean that your life has ended. It means your surroundings have changed, but the way you want to live your life should be as close to that as we can possibly make it,” Harbourview Lodge clinical supervisor Cathy Logan said.

Each cat is thoroughly screened for a gentle demeanor, must be spayed or neutered, and is treated by a vet before being welcomed into the centre. These precautions are in accordance with a detailed companion animal policy, developed in part by Ed Empringham, a retired veterinary surgeon on the Board of Directors for Harbourview Lodge.

There is a cat-free zone for those allergic to or wary of cats.

Harbourview Lodge ascribes to the Eden Alternative philosophy, which aims to “create an environment that reduces feelings of loneliness, helplessness and boredom experienced by many elders living in care homes.” The antidote to boredom, according to the philosophy, is a life in which spontaneous and unpredictable happenings take place on a daily basis.

“They’re fun to watch, with their antics. Residents make sure the cats have things to play with. I mean, even if it’s a balled-up piece of paper, the cats will chase that and everybody laughs!” Logan said.

One of the well-being domains in the Eden Alternative philosophy is connectedness. A strong, loving connection is formed between the cats, staff, residents and their families.

Several years ago, a beloved Angora cat named Muffy was buried on the premises with a memorial plaque. Staff and residents attended her November funeral service.

Cat toys and treats are regularly brought in by families, even after their loved one is no longer living at the centre. Over time, there have been some stand-out cats, including a black cat who could sense when a resident was dying and stayed glued to their bedside until they passed.

“Cats bring a sense of comfort and help residents settle in, in a way that none of the rest of us can,” Logan said. “There’s nothing more soothing than the purring of a cat.”