Thula has been a bather, a biker, a boater, a nanny and all-around source of support to help her owner with autism.
Written by Anastasia Thrift
Thula the Maine Coon’s role as a therapy cat for a young UK girl with autism is capturing the attention of several news outlets. The cat helps her young charge, Iris, with everything from biking to bathing to sleeping, and now the two are featured in a new book “Iris Grace.”
When Iris was 2, her parents began looking for ways to help her with communication and comfort, two things Iris’ severe form of autism made difficult. They believed in animal therapy and after visiting horses and dogs, they decided to try a third animal, a special cat named Thula.
“From the very start, they just seemed to connect,” Iris’ mom, Arabella Carter-Johnson, said in an interview on BBC’s “The One Show” last week. “They just did everything together. She even had a bath with Iris and that seemed to sort out that problem.”
Bathtime had previously been a challenge for Iris, who experienced extreme anxiety around the water. Now, with the help of Thula, Iris bathes without stress and even swims, accompanied, of course by her feline companion. Nearly everything she does is alongside Thula.
“It was just an incredible change in Iris,” Carter-Johnston said in the British TV program. “They were just best friends… therapist and best pal all sort of wrapped up into one.”
The pair take walks, ride bikes in the countryside and embark on boat voyages together. Thula shows curiosity and courage at every turn, and no small amount of love and care for her owner.
Thula also helps Iris with her other form of therapy: painting. Iris creates unique watercolors that are so eye-catching that collectors have begun buying them. Angelina Jolie is reported to be among those who’ve purchased her art. Thula could be to thank for that.
“We began to see some cat shapes within her painting so she was definitely influenced by Thula,” Carter-Johnston said on “The One Show.”
“Thula would get up on the table before Thula was even there. Just be ready and waiting, the little artist’s assistant.”
The cat has certainly made a huge impact on not only Iris, but the whole family.
“I certainly wouldn’t have thought we’d have a pet like Thula… we can just go with the flow and follow Iris,” Carter-Johnson said. “And she’s happy.”