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Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

10kg cat just what doctor ordered

Gill Ballard's Maine coon cat Fergusson visits the sick in Waikato Hospital. Photo / Christine Cornege
Gill Ballard's Maine coon cat Fergusson visits the sick in Waikato Hospital. Photo / Christine Cornege

Fergusson, the 10kg cat, is a regular sight in the corridors of Waikato Hospital, cheering up patients and posing for photographs as he goes.

The former show cat is now in a new line of work - pet therapy - through his volunteering at the Hamilton hospital with owner Gill Ballard.

A Maine coon, the largest breed of domestic cat, Fergusson is already heavier than most moggies and, at just 2 years old, he still has two years to grow. A male can typically weigh up to 11.3kg.

Fergusson is so heavy that 67-year-old Mrs Ballard bought him a pushchair yesterday for their weekly visits.

"I tried to get a wheelchair but they're not always available," she said.

And when Fergusson jumps up on to the beds of patients it's a grin from ear to ear that greets him, says Mrs Ballard, a retired receptionist from the hospital's older persons and rehabilitation unit.

"I am always told by the staff of the difference he makes in cheering up patients who may be a bit down," she said. "And the patients always say how much they appreciate it."

Mrs Ballard decided her pet would be a perfect volunteer candidate because of his placid nature.

There has only been one "accident", when a 2-year-old boy "started pulling his tail and yelling at him and poking him, so I don't know that he'd like to go to the children's ward".

Mrs Ballard said Fergusson, who has had more than the odd call-back, had attracted a bit of a fan club around the hospital and had forged a "really cool friendship" with one patient he has visited for almost a year.

"It's huge fun. Every time we visit, lots of people get out their smartphones out in the corridors and photograph him - he must be the most photographed cat in Hamilton if not New Zealand."

He reacted to patients as he did with her special-needs son at home.

"He's never ever tried to scratch anybody or objected to anybody."

- NZ Herald

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