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Want to foster a cat for free? UGA looking for seniors to help in loneliness project

ATHENS, Ga. — The University of Georgia needs your help to spread the word about a study they’re conducting.

They're looking for seniors to foster a cat for a few months, all expenses paid. The goal is to prevent loneliness.

“I just fell in love with him. He gave me new purpose in life,” 78-year-old Foster Cat Study participant Mary Sherrer said about her cat, Mr. Earl.

Mr. Earl is Sherrer’s first pet cat. She started fostering him nearly a year ago after learning UGA would pay for his food, litter and vet bills. The goal is companionship.

“I’ve been alone,” Sherrer said. “All my kids are grown, got their own families now and they’ve been gone for years, so he’s my company keeper. He’s somebody I can talk to and confide in.”

UGA researcher Sherry Sanders paired Sherrer with Mr. Earl and is looking to match other older adults with cats on a trail bases and monitors how it impacts emotional health and well-being.

She said preliminary results have been life-altering for some.

“What we’ve shown so far is by four months, we’ve decreased loneliness in people,” Sanders said.

According to the University of Michigan, one in three Americans older than 50 said they are lonely. UGA geriatrician Dr. Don Scott said depression from loneliness can cause heart conditions, or early death. He said the most important relationship many older folks have is with their pet.

“There’s a lot of touch involved with cats,” Scott said. “And I think that touch is something that older people, especially isolated older people, really don’t get that much of anymore.”

Study participant Howard “Doc” Marlowe said the touch he gets from his cat Molly was something he desperately needed. “I needed company, bad.” Marlowe said. “I was really lonely.”

Marlowe adopted Molly just weeks into the study; now, she sleeps on his pillow every night. He said caring for Molly has made him happier and sharper.

“I get up and walk more now and get up and do stuff because I have to do for her,” Marlowe said. “Before, I was just sitting in this chair all the time, just wasting away.”

Sherrer also decided to adopt. Her tip to other seniors: “If someone lives alone and doesn’t have a pet, I would suggest a cat.”

UGA is looking for more Foster Cat Study participants. If you, or a loved one, are at least 60 years old and don’t have a pet, you may be eligible to participate in the study. The study lasts four months or 12 if you adopt, all expenses paid, including pet deposits fees up to $400.

You can call UGA at 706-542-8310 or email sherrys@uga.edu or donscott@uga.edu for more information.

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