MEET Kylie Turner and her best friend Arthur, the adorable cat who has helped turn her life around and overcome her fears.
Kylie has autism and until she got Arthur in November, she was withdrawn and isolated.
But now Arthur, who even has his own little jacket and black wellington boots, goes everywhere with Kylie and their unbreakable bond has transformed her world helping her to come out of her shell.
The 29-year-old from Bournemouth is now determined to educate the public about autism – with a little helping paw from her feline friend.
She said: “Arthur is my best friend. I take him everywhere I can. When he was smaller, he’d sit on my shoulders and now he puts his paws around my neck or my waist. If it’s cold he goes inside my coat and pops his head out.
“He has changed my life. I’m like a different person now. He makes it so much easier for me to go out and has really improved my confidence. I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
Kylie was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome three years ago and quickly became aware of the huge stigma that many people with autism face.
She explained she would spend a lot of time at home and social situations would fill her with dread.
That was until she decided to get a kitten. She chose Arthur, a Persian cat.
Immediately they bonded and Kylie and her new pet became inseparable.
Animals have been shown to help reduce stress, anxiety and depression and are commonly used in therapy to increase self-esteem and improve social skills.
Today, aged six months, Arthur joins her on trips out.
The pair go to the beach, a weekly pub quiz at bar Circo Lounge in Westbourne and even shopping together.
Thanks to Arthur, people approach Kylie and talk to her, which has had a huge difference to her life.
Kylie said: “When I was first diagnosed the way that people interacted with me changed dramatically and it both shocked and saddened me. Autism doesn’t make anyone less of a person and nobody deserves to be treated differently.
“Now people always come over and talk to me, asking questions. They say how cute he is and ask: ‘Why is he here?’ I say: ‘He’s part of the team.’
“I’m amazed at how laid back and happy he is. He’s the most chilled cat ever. If I leave him at home he runs to the door to greet me.”
As well as her confidence with human interactions, Arthur has also inspired Kylie to uncover some hidden talents such as art and baking and decorating occasion cakes.
Kylie added: “Arthur knows not to come on the table when I’m baking a cake. I tell him ‘no’ and once taught him ‘time out’ and that was enough for him to understand!
With loyal Arthur’s help, Kylie is helping Bournemouth-based support service Nurse Plus with its autism strategy to help the Support Plus team ensure they are making a positive impact to people they support. She has also put together a user-friendly information pack so others can get advice on the complexities of autism and the opportunities on offer.
Kylie said: “I would really like to see an improved understanding of autism, especially for some people working within health and social care who could develop a better understanding. It is my hope that raising awareness will allow more people to be able to get the help and understanding that they so desperately need.”