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The Amazing Bond Between a 7-year-old Artist With Autism And Her Cat March 13 2017, 8 Comments

Meet seven-year-old Iris Grace Halmshaw and her best friend, Thula.

autism awareness therapy animals for autism

Iris Grace is an incredibly talented young artist who has struggled with communication, social interaction and expressing affection from a young age. Thula is her therapy cat – but she’s also so much more. Thula is Iris’ constant companion, her best friend, and a guide to help her navigate a challenging world. 

thula the cat maine coone facts
 When Iris was diagnosed with autism in late 2011, her parents sought activities that would help Iris to comfortably and more effectively express herself. 

They discovered Iris Grace had an amazing talent for painting, vividly capturing the world from her unique perspective. Her work has been likened to that of Monet.

therapy cat emotional support animal

Iris’ parents also looked into finding Iris a therapy animal. They tried horses, dogs, even other cats, but Iris didn’t seem to connect with any of them. Exasperated and ready to admit defeat, it wasn’t until Iris connected with a friend’s cat that her mother realized she “just hadn’t found the right animal yet.”

That is, until they found Thula.

cat snuggling with person

Thula is a Maine Coon, a breed of cat known as “gentle giants” for their size and affectionate disposition.

cat and baby cThe connection between the two was almost immediate. “Ever since we came home with Thula, this precious, magical kitten has cast a spell over Iris,” Arabella Carter-Johnson, Iris’ mom, writes.



“They sit beside each other as Iris paints, and new doorways to communication have been opened, doors we had previously feared might be locked forever.”

cat playing maine coone

 With Thula ever at her side, Iris has become more verbal and expressive. “Thula has lowered [Iris’] daily anxieties in life and keeps Iris calm,” writes Arabella. “But equally has the effect of encouraging her to be more social. She will talk more to Thula, saying little phrases like ‘sit cat.’”

cat best friend
Iris Grace disliked the feel of certain textures, such as clothing and water, and often felt uncomfortable wearing clothes, bathing and even sleeping.

But Thula was there to help, happily getting into the tub with Iris and letting Arabella shampoo her fur to help encourage Iris. Thula faithfully, patiently listens while Iris Grace chats and tells her all about sea creatures during bathtime.

cat in bath cat in tub

“Whatever activity we are doing Thula is there and wants to help and be involved,” Arabella Carter-Johnson said.  

therapy cats therapy animals

“Waterplay, playdoh, painting, bike rides, iPad, puzzles, marble run, drawing… she offers Iris her companionship, friendship and supports me in encouraging Iris to interact.”

iris grace and her cat

Though cats aren’t immediately thought of as therapy animals, Thula turned out to be the cat, the companion, and the dearest friend Iris Grace needed. Even some of this talented young girl's paintings seem to show the impact Thula has had and the depth of their special bond.

cat art cat prints

Can you see Thula's face in the painting above?

For more on Iris Grace and Thula's story, check out their Facebook

Do you know of someone who has a cat as their therapy animal? Let us know!





All photos thanks to IrisGracePainting

h/t to BoredPanda

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