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ICU - Intensive Cat Unit - Helping Patients Heal At UCSF

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- Amid the pumps and IV machines, ventilators, and monitors at in the intensive care unit at UCSF Medical Center, a "purrfectly" trained professional is making the rounds: a 7-year-old tuxedo cat.

His name is Duke Ellington Morris

"When he first mentioned it, I was, like, 'Is it a dog?'  Nope - a kitty!" chuckled patient Susan Wuann.

"Oh, this cat's phenomenal!" exclaimed patient Marcy Harrison.

"It's pretty exciting to meet him and see a cat in the hospital." said nurse David Goldberger.

For both the patients and staff, Duke is one cool cat.

"I was skeptical of the idea until I met Duke and was, like, this works for us," said Steven Koster, who facilitates the animal-assisted therapy program at UCSF with the San Francisco SPCA.

All the pets who participate in the program are vetted and healthy.

"The staff who has been involved with the animal assisted therapy program are very careful to make sure the animals are very safe to be in the ICU," said UCSF Adult Critical Care Director Dr. Matt Aldrich

The goal is to facilitate healing, promote wellbeing, and share a little love.

Studies show pet therapy can reduce blood pressure, pain, stress, anxiety, and depression. And Duke is a pretty mellow cat.

"When you have this animal that comes in here like Duke ... you can pet him, you can stroke him. He gives you a sense of being connected as a human again. So it's really a wonderful thing," explained patient Andre Ross.

These days, Duke - a rescue cat - pretty much rules this ICU and his owners are happy to share him. "I think he rescued us. there's no doubt in my mind," said owner Jennifer Morris. "He's just a sweetheart."

"It really does make you feel good," added Harrison.

"This is the cream on the top," exclaimed Wuan.

As for Duke? He just lapped it up.

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