Why Mittens is the purr-fect pal for autistic Faith (11)
Meet Mittens the Portadown cat who has been honoured with a special award celebrating his close bond with his owner.
Eleven-year-old Faith Downey suffers from autism and the black and white tomcat has proven to be the 'purr-fect' friend for the little girl, who finds it difficult to socialise. Faith's family have said that Mittens helps her to cope.
Mittens walked away with the 'Furr-Ever Friends' award, which celebrates tales of friendship between cats and children, at this year's National Cat Awards.
The awards are held annually by the Cats Protection Society, which is based in England, but opens the awards up to kitties across the country.
Faith described her furry friend as "very special to me because he always sticks by my side and we love playing together".
"Whenever I'm worried or upset he'll come over on to my knee and cuddle up to me," she added, whilst chatting to BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster yesterday.
Describing Mittens' curious personality, Faith 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 now. Boasting her pride for her furry sidekick, Faith said: "I was very privileged that Mittens was recognised as the special cat he is."
Earlier this year, Faith was also diagnosed with a rare brain tumour that affects one in a million people in the world.
Faith's mother, Elizabeth Downey, 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."
Discussing the unique bond that her daughter has with Mittens, Mrs Downey said: "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.
"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."
Paying tribute to the pair, 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."