'Meditating' Sphynx cat helps traumatized kids bond with counselors

Things click into place as Thea closes her eyes and a voice intones, “Take one more breath.” She sits calmly, Zen-like, leading an online meditation as the soothing words continue to instruct her viewers.

“Be aware of your whole body as best you can. Take a breath, and then, when you’re ready … you can open your eyes.”

A gentle voice calls “Thea,” and she opens her eyes on cue.

Not bad for a cat.

Thea, a 4-year-old Sphynx cat, joined CCN's Paws for Empowerment team in November 2019 thanks to a grant from the A.J. and Sigismunda Palumbo Charitable Trust.Sydney Stephenson
Thea is the only feline on the Paws for Empowerment team at the nonprofit Crisis Center North, a domestic violence counseling and educational resource center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The 4-year-old Sphynx cat typically works in counseling sessions for children aged 2-19, but during the pandemic, she’s also been meeting virtually with clients who cannot come into the center and supporting the community at large.
Sydney Stephenson, CCN youth counselor and Thea’s handler, said she and her cat primarily work with children who live in families where a parent is a victim of domestic violence, or who have experienced other types of trauma, such as assault.“Kids come to me because they’re in a difficult place — having a really hard time,” Stephenson told TODAY. “And nobody likes to talk about difficult things. But having Thea in the sessions is just such a calming presence. It reassures them. It can help them bond with me faster because they see how much she trusts me.”

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