Northern Ireland

Portadown puss is the purr-fect companion

Faith and mittens Image copyright Liam McBurney/PA

A cat from Portadown, who is a companion to an eleven-year-old girl with a rare brain tumour and autism, has won a special award.

Faith Downey, from Cushenny Road in County Armagh has found a purr-fect pal in her black and white cat, Mittens.

Mittens won the "Furr-ever Friends" category in the Cats Protection's National Cat Awards this year.

The award "celebrates tales of friendship" between cats and children. Faith's family say he helps her cope.

"Mittens is very special to me because he always sticks by my side and we love playing together ," Faith told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster.

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Media captionHow a pet cat is helping a little girl with autism

"Whenever I'm worried or upset he'll come over on to my knee and cuddle up to me," she said.

"He has a strange fascination for hair bobbles so whenever I throw him a hair bobble he'll run after it and pick it up in his mouth."

Mittens has been Faith's special friend for four years and she was excited by the trip to the awards ceremony.

"I was very privileged that Mittens was recognised as the special cat he is," she said.

Challenges

Her mum, Elizabeth, said: "Living with autism can be very hard and Faith faces lots of challenges.

"Earlier this year, she was also found to have a brain tumour, and doctors are still deciding how to treat this.

"Faith finds it difficult to interact with people, yet has formed an amazing bond with Mittens.

"When she's sad, Mittens will curl up on her and he is never bothered by her meltdowns."

Image copyright Liam McBurney/PA

Elizabeth said Mittens makes a real difference to Faith's emotional state - and has learned to respond to Mittens' body language.

She has also become more aware of the world around her.

"Through Mittens, Faith has learnt so many new skills but also has a constant, reliable and fun friend by her side. He really is a one in a million and we all love him to bits," said Elizabeth.

Cats Protection's awards organiser Kate Bunting said: "Mittens and Faith's story is a truly inspiring one and just goes to show how important cats can be to family life.

"It's wonderful to hear how Faith's bond with Mittens has helped her on so many levels, from being a fun and playful friend to helping her understand the world around her."

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