By Tiffany Merlo Phelps

Lorri Reynolds would be the first to admit that she is a “glorified chauffeur” for her therapy cat Sooshi and that the American short-hair feline is a well-known celebrity. And that is just the way Reynolds, Pet Partners of Northeast Florida board chair, likes it. 

“She is a big deal,” said Reynolds, who is a licensed instructor for Pet Partners to teach handlers how to be a part of a therapy team. 

She has been volunteering with Pet Partners since 2017, and Sooshi is the first registered therapy cat for Pet Partners of Northeast Florida. Sooshi, she said, fills an important role by bringing comfort and joy to anyone she visits, often invited in by Hospice, businesses, schools, and other organizations. 

Reynolds has been nominated for 2024 Pet Partners Pet of the Year for her support of Pet Partners and “for the amazing demonstration of the human-animal bond.” Sooshi, a rescue cat originally named Hope, is seven years old and got her name because she reminded Reynolds of the color of sushi with her white and brown patches. Reynolds sensed that Sooshi would be a perfect match for pet therapy, but she had to develop a trusting relationship first. To do this, Reynolds took Sooshi everywhere, essentially desensitizing the cat to attention and activity. 

Their relationship is at the heart of a recent one-of-a-kind study focused on therapy cat teams and the benefits of time spent with cats. Reynolds, a former Ponte Vedra Beach resident who now lives in Green Cove Springs, participated in the study, and said it helps to break down the prejudices and stigma sometimes associated with cats. 

“It also shows that you have to be really dedicated to that animal and to your relationship,” said Reynolds. “That’s what makes a really good therapy team.” 

The study was conducted by Pet Partners and Cat Person and investigated the unique bond shared between people and their pet cats. Most importantly, the study, funded by Cat Person, highlighted the ways in which therapy cat teams impact communities through animal-assisted interventions (AAI) in a variety of settings. AAI is a goal-oriented and structured intervention that intentionally incorporates animals in health, education, and human service for the purpose of therapeutic gains and improved health and wellness. 

Through a combination of survey responses and interviews, participants described the positive impact their cats had on their daily lives. They identified the traits that make their cat the right fit for therapy animal work as well as the measures they use to protect their cat’s welfare during therapy visits. 

“Anecdotally, we’ve always known that people share meaningful relationships with cats, reflected in the number of requests we receive from facilities wanting therapy cat visits. Now we have data to support this belief,” said Taylor Chastain Griffin, PhD, National Director of AAI Advancement at Pet Partners. “We are excited to have completed, to our knowledge, the most comprehensive study on cats as therapy animals and to share results that call for a greater appreciation of the cat-human bond.”

The information will be used to help recruit more cat therapy teams, to help people recognize that cats can be therapy animals and to offer more programs to communities everywhere, said Chastain. She added that the study was conducted over a four-month period with participants being very eager to share information about their cats. 

“We teamed up with Pet Partners to put data behind what we know to be true: that cats are loving, intuitive beings that improve the mental health and wellness of humans,” said Meghan Knoll, Cat Person CEO. 

Reynolds described the difference between cat and dog therapy this way: “Dogs are very engaging and want to receive love. When someone asks for cat therapy, they want to give love. It is a much quieter visit.” 

Reynolds added that there is no charge for Pet Partners’ therapy services, and they train nine different types of animals. 

[Author’s note: For more information about Pet Partners locally or Sooshi, call or email Reynolds at (904) 612-8952 or To donate, send checks to P.O. Box 1485, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32004. For more information about Pet Partners or to read the complete study, go to and click on Publications.]

Photo courtesy Lorri Reynolds 
Sooshi, a therapy cat lifting spirits wherever she goes.

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