Airports can often be stressful, but one former feral cat is making the experience more pawsitive. The San Francisco International Airport’s therapy animal team called “Wag Brigade” proudly introduced Duke, or Duke Ellington Morris, their first therapy cat on their team. The Wag Brigade ambassadors are part of the SF SPCA’s animal therapy program.
Imagine trying to navigate a busy airport and coming across this kitty in his spiffy Wag Brigade uniform with a “Pet Me” vest and pilot’s wings. That would surely put a smile on our faces and alleviate tension in seconds!
Duke was Rescued as Young Feral Cat
This story is even more amazing because Duke, now age 14, was rescued as a starving feral cat. Jennifer Morris’s family adopted him from SF Animal Care and Control at one year old. Her 5-year-old daughter saw the kitten reach for them with his paw when they visited the shelter.
“I hear my daughter shrieking with joy, ‘I love the black and white kitty.’ And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Morris said. “We met Duke, and he was focused on my daughter. And I figured, well, if a cat wants a 5-year-old for his next guardian, he couldn’t be that bad,” she told SFGate.
Soon, the family recognized that he was incredibly chill and comfortable around people.
“I think he rescued us,” said Jennifer Morris. “There’s no doubt in my mind. He is just a sweetheart.”
Initially, his name was Tai Chi Tuxedo but later he earned his name honoring the jazz legend, Duke Ellington.
Duke’s Wag Brigade Debut
The kitty was so friendly they knew he’d be a great therapy cat, following through until he was officially certified. Then, he helped people in hospitals and ICUs for over a decade until he made the Wag Brigade four years ago.
Due to the pandemic, the program shut down but has resumed activity.
He’s become the first therapy cat for the Wag Brigade, which launched in 2013. To receive certification, Duke had to demonstrate his purrfect temperament and airport suitability. He’s the only cat on a team of 17 doggos, Alex, the Flemish Giant rabbit, and Lilou, the first certified piggy.
“Introducing Duke Ellington Morris. Duke is the 1st cat to qualify for the Wag Brigade. We are proud to welcome Duke to our diverse and unique team of therapy animals!” shared sfowagbrigage.
Here’s how they described Duke’s background as a feral kitten turned absurdly cute therapy cat at a major airport
“Duke was discovered starving in a San Francisco feral cat colony. After a short stint at SF Animal Care and Control, Duke spotted a young human that he decided was his ticket to a better life. Was he ever correct—Duke immediately took to his new family and it quickly became clear to his new guardians that this was a special cat. Since then, Duke has been certified as an animal therapist, helping humans of all ages deal with stress, illness, hardship, and putting smiles on their faces when they need it most.”
Duke Helped People in Hospitals Over a Decade
Below, you can see Duke’s previous work for the San Francisco SPCA’s animal therapy program at the UCSF Medical Center. The SPCA program started over 40 years ago!
At the time, Duke was 7 years old and helped people in their time of need in the ICU and psychiatry department.
“He used to go to UCSF for visits at the ICU,” Morris told SFGate. And they would wheel him in on a cart, and people who wanted to pet him got approval from their doctors,” Morris told the site. “They would give them a nice scratch underneath the chin.
— The Dodo (@dodo) February 1, 2017
To become a therapy at in the ICU, he was carefully vetted as a cat that would never scratch anyone.
Video by KPIX, CBS News Bay Area:
Therapy Animals and People Mutually Benefit
There is scientific evidence that interacting with therapy animals helps both people and the therapy animals. While social media often shares cat content as a “serotonin boost,” research shows that oxytocin, the “love hormone,” gets released interacting with therapy animals. So, there’s genuine stress relief for humans and pets. Plus, there are many other health benefits like lowering blood pressure, pain, stress, anxiety, depression, cholesterol and triglycerides. We get those health benefits everyday thanks to our pets!
More of Duke Ellington at the UCSF Medical Center below: