Spinal unit's Alfie was a healer

BECK ELEVEN
Last updated 05:00 06/07/2013
Alfie the cat
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ
BELOVED TABBY: Alfie, who brought comfort to many patients at the Burwood Spinal Unit in Christchurch, has died.

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Alfie, a much-loved cat which lived at the Burwood Spinal Unit and had a knack for comforting the sickest patients, has died.

For 19 years, the tabby made the Christchurch units his home, sitting on the beds and knees of patients going through traumatic adjustments in their lives.

He was put down yesterday after suffering kidney failure.

Former charge nurse Ngaire Hunt said Alfie changed the specialist spinal unit for the better.

"Nineteen years ago he just turned up," Hunt said.

"It was not long after I started and he was about 2 years old then. God knows where he came from but he just stayed.

"He was just a constant presence. He'd pick the sickest and just sit with them. I remember one man was in the ward dying of cancer and Alfie stayed on his bed for days, only leaving to pee and poo and eat.

"He was an amazing cat. Just the way he picked the ones who needed him most."

The spinal unit was a suitable home for Alfie - he suffered a lower spinal injury himself after losing his tail in an unfortunate wrangle with an automatic door.

"People loved him - well not everyone, some people hate cats - but he brought comfort. Alfie changed us from a hospital into a home rehab unit and while we still have to be a hospital, home is exactly what people who come here need."

Alfie's biggest champion was the spinal unit's clinical director, Dr Rick Acland, who has produced research papers proving animals have a positive effect on patients' wellbeing.

Alfie featured on the front page of The Press in 2008 with Fleur Hansby, a Blenheim woman who had been paralysed in a cycling accident. At the time, she said Alfie gave her the attitude boost she needed to face life in a wheelchair.

Hunt is sure patients across the country will remember Alfie and asks them to send pictures or messages to the hospital.

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