This story is about a very unique friendship and loving bond between an extraordinary young girl and her therapy cat.
Before we delve into this heartwarming tale, stop for a moment and look at the painting below called ‘raining cats’. You might initially think it could be one of Monet’s works because of its soft impressionistic style.
Would you be surprised to find out that it was drawn by a 5-year old girl? We certainly were! What an incredible talent!
The artist is Iris Grace Halmshaw, a 5-year-old British girl who is diagnosed with autism. Her muse is a gentle and loving Main Coon cat named Thula. The two best friends are now inseparable.
As a result of her condition, Iris doesn’t speak much but through the love and encouragement of her parents, she has learned to express her emotions through painting instead. Her parents say that she draws much of her inspiration from the long hours she spends sitting outdoors, gazing at the beauty of nature.
Iris’ breath taking paintings are sold to private art collectors around the world, and her family uses the money to pay for her therapy treatments, art supplies, and to raise awareness about autism.
Iris is home-educated and has been painting her astonishing Monet-style landscapes since she was three, when her mom (Arabella Carter-Johnson) devised art sessions to help her daughter’s concentration and speech.
Iris, like many with autism, experienced daily anxiety and was highly uncomfortable in social situations. Mornings were particularly difficult for Iris, so her mother thought that a nurturing animal companion might be helpful and calming.
Arabella said that she wasn’t advised to get a therapy animal, but when she researched autism, she found numerous stories about the wonderful effects that animals can have on autistic children. Arabella said, “We took Iris to equine therapy but she didn’t seem very interested in horses at that time. Then I began to think about a therapy dog.”
“Iris and the dog didn’t get along – Iris hated being licked and the tail wagging, the hyperactivity of the dog would upset her. So, for a while I gave up on the idea.” It was her fans online – mainly in America – who encouraged Arabella to look into getting a Maine Coon cat to keep Iris company and help her to open up further.
Iris’s parents bought Thula (a Maine Coon cat) for their daughter two years ago, and she has since started to speak – something doctors warned might never happen. When Iris met Thula, it was love at first meow. =^..^=
Arabella said, “Thula has lowered Iris’ daily anxieties and keeps her calm, but equally has the effect of encouraging her to be more social.” “She has been at Iris’s side since she arrived and slept in her arms during her first night here. Thula’s constant presence and gentle nature is having a remarkable effect upon Iris.” Thula will regularly sit beside Iris and mimic her movements.
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Unlike most children of Iris’ age, she doesn’t chase, stroke or pick up the kitten constantly. Their relationship is based upon companionship. Thula is not trained to be a service/therapy cat, but since the family took her in at such a young age she has gotten used to many things ordinary cats might have a literal hissy-fit about. For example, Thula regularly wears a harness, rides in the car, boat rides and even bike rides.
Main Coons are not only very intelligent, but also one of the gentlest cat breeds. Iris went through a stage over the last year of hating baths and having her hair washed. Thula is so supportive of Iris that she will even make the ultimate sacrifice a cat can make — she’ll take a bath, allowing herself to get all wet, just to encourage Iris, who has a strong aversion to the bathtub, to do the same.
Iris loves being outside and one can see so much of nature in her paintings. She will watch water, trees, wind, leaves, flowers, birds, clouds and is so interested in movement and how it changes things.
Thula and Iris do everything together, whether painting, just being in the garden, looking at books or joining the family on canal boat trips, bike rides and walks on a leash.
According to Arabella, “When Iris was looking at her books; she would delicately feel Thula’s ears and her long whiskers, or hold her tail at the tip, casually twiddling with the fur as if it were her own.”
If Iris woke up at night, Thula was there to settle her. It was as though she instinctively knew what to do. She would bring Iris a small toy in her mouth and drop it beside her. Thula would then snuggle up beside her and purr, while Iris gently settled and fell back to sleep.
Are you curious to know where the name ‘Thula’ came from? We were too. Turns out, it’s from one of Iris’ favorite songs – a traditional Zulu lullaby called Thula Baba.
Iris is not only a gifted painter, but is also very musical and has shown an affinity for music since she was a baby. Arabella was quoted saying, “Music was the one thing that always calmed her. Iris is particularly into classical music at the moment and knows all of the orchestra instruments. She adores the violin.”
Thula continues to be a big influence in Iris’s acclaimed artwork which can fetch several thousand dollars per painting. Celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher have shared Iris’s work on social media,
Iris’s astonishing tale of talent and her special relationship with Thula is lovingly told by her mother in a book called ‘Iris Grace’ published by Penguin. For information, here’s the link: https://hyperurl.co/IrisGrace
This is one remarkable friendship! Our thanks to Arabella for providing images and allowing us to share her beautiful and talented daughter’s amazing story.
Images: All images courtesy of Arabella Carter-Johnson
OK, we admit it, we’re big are fans of Iris and Thula! We’d love to hear your stories of any remarkable therapy cats.
For anyone interested in autism and cats, please read our other post called “The Power of Cats with Autistic Children”