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frances symons, lucky the cat

January 07, 2002

Lucky the Cat a welcome visitor



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY
andreabh@herald-mail.com


Frances Symons pushes 15 pounds of purring therapy through the halls of Western Maryland Hospital Center in Hagerstown.

Lucky the Cat never tries to jump out of the wheelchair.

Clad in a blue rhinestone collar and a striped red sweater adorned with a U.S. flag pin, the fat feline lounges on a braided rug in the chair as his owner pushes him from room to room visiting patients.

"Hey, Lucky," calls patient Gertrude "Boomer" Ahern. "He's a big one."

Ruth Hopkins smiles from her bed when Lucky rolls into her room. Symons heaves the cat from the chair, sits him on Hopkins' bedcovers, and molds Lucky like putty until he's in a position for Hopkins to easily stroke his fur.

The 11-year-old tabby cat never tries to jump off the bed. He doesn't hiss. He simply swats his tail a bit and lets out a faint "meow."

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"He listens so good," Hopkins says, petting Lucky. "And he's so pretty."

Lucky has been bringing smiles to patients and staff members at the chronic care center since Symons started toting him along to visit her husband there in January 2000, she said.

"When they see my kitty coming, they bring him a wheelchair so I can push him around," said Symons, 65, of Hagerstown.

Even after Alvin Symons Jr. passed away in October 2000, his wife and her cat continued to make their visits to the Pennsylvania Avenue center. Symons started volunteering for the hospital's auxiliary last January. The patients often ask for Lucky when they see her making their beds, placing ice water by their bedsides and running errands for them, Symons said.

"They think I ought to bring him out here all the time," she said. "They love him. It makes me feel good that they like Lucky."

Symons reserves one day a week for Lucky's visits to patients on 1 East Wing, devoting three other days to her regular volunteer chores on the wing, Volunteer Coordinator Sharron Silvers said.

"Lucky's well-known around here," she said. "The residents really enjoy the pet therapy."

Symons said many of the patients perk up when they see her cat. If Lucky gets excited, it's hard to tell.

He doesn't budge from his spot in the wheelchair when the elevator doors beep open, a laundry cart clangs past or a camera flashes in his eyes.

She says he's not under the weather or on cat tranquilizers. Lucky, who lazily raises his head when his owner calls his name, is slightly peeved that he didn't get fed before the hospital visit, Symons says. She avoids feeding the cat before his hospital trips so he won't have to use the litter box.

"He's just a good kitty," she said. "I trained him well."

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