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Charity work offers therapy for people and animals

A charity volunteer says helping to rehabilitate traumatised cats helped her cope with her own grief after tragically losing her husband, father and sister.

Helen Gunton became a full-time carer for her husband four years ago after his health deteriorated due to myotonic muscular dystrophy. During this time she also tragically lost her father and sister within a month of each other.

She began volunteering at Yorkshire Cat Rescue in July last year, where she says the friendship of the cats and other volunteers took her mind off her worries and gave her the strength she needed.

Sadly Helen’s husband passed away on Valentine’s Day this year and, at the same time, tragedy struck for three cats who lost their family in a harrowing murder-suicide.

The trio, Hunter, Amber and Juno, were left traumatised – hiding confused and frightened in their pen at Yorkshire Cat Rescue – and the centre manager suggested Helen spend some time with them.

“They were very frightened at first,” Helen explains. “But minute by minute they became more comfortable with me around; Hunter came closer and snuggled up with the rest of the cats and Amber let me tickle her tummy. In what seemed like minutes, all three cats were letting out loud purrs.

“I was instantly comforted by their company; it was as if we were all starting to heal. The time practically flew by and before I knew it, I had been there for more than three hours. It was such a wonderful, beautiful morning; I will never forget it.”

Following her experiences, Helen is encouraging other people going through difficult times to consider volunteering. “By finding somewhere special, where you are surrounded by people who care deeply about their work and who have an enviable ability to give everything they have, you start to see the colour of life again,” she adds.

“Even just the smallest break from a daunting routine or the darkest of places can be that breath of fresh air which keeps you going.

“For me, volunteering and helping to rehabilitate cats so that they are able to find a new loving home has given me a new lease of life. Time spent with the cats, for me at least, is the best medicine for the soul.”

The charity’s founder, Sara Atkinson, says Helen’s story illustrates the special relationship between people and cats: “I often say that we don’t just help cats; we are here for people when they need us too… The work [Helen] has done in bringing out the best in a trio of cats that were truly traumatised is both heart-warming and admirable. We are very lucky to have her.”