Service Cats

Cats helping people to manage PTSD

by Elisa Black-Taylor
(USA)

My cat reminds me of rescue cat Patch

My cat reminds me of rescue cat Patch

I began wondering why service cats are never mentioned as there have been so many articles making the news this month about service dogs for returning soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Why are dogs getting all the publicity on this issue? Even the ASPCA is helping partner service dogs with returning vets.

I love dogs as much as the next person. I have four of my own, one being a retired service dog for seizures. So I decided to sit down and read up on the advantages of having a service cat.

My mindset going in to this probably mirrors dog lovers everywhere. A dog can make a returning soldier feel secure and protected. A dog will go to the park and play or take a nap anytime it’s offered to a dog. I thought using service dogs had more to do with protection and the fact dogs are usually aggressively friendly, for lack of a better term. I know lots of cats who are on their own timetable for human companionship.

I was wrong on the reason cats are used for PTSD.

I first read an article on Jeff Ward, a returning veteran who suffers from the condition. He has a service cat, whom he claims absorbs a lot of his stress and allows him to function out in society so long as his cat is with him. Jeff purchased a gym membership. He even took his cat with him on his first tour of the facility. But when he arrived for his first workout, he was told the cat couldn’t come in. Needless to say, he canceled membership at that gym.

I also found a sweet article on returning veteran John McGahey, who also suffers from PTSD. John was given a service cat named Patch, a beautiful white cat trained to ride in a special pouch John wears as they go about the city. Not only was Patch banned from city buses, the cat was also banned from the local Veterans Administration office until John went through a lot of government red tape so the cat would be welcome. Patch still isn’t allowed in restaurants.

I work in the security industry and recently took a test about service animals. Did the readers know it’s illegal to ask someone with a service animal to ask for written documentation stating a cat or dog (or small horse) is a service animal? Yes, small horses are also used as service animals. Most companies now have a policy to take the owner at their word that the animal is truly a service animal.

As for riding public transportation with a service animal, Federal Transit Administration regulation 49 C.F.R. Part 37 provides that public and private entities, such as taxis, buses and trains, permit service animals to accompany people in their vehicles and facilities.

After reading these two stories about returning vets and their service cats, I feel I understand what a service cat does. It’s not about protection at all. Studies have shown for decades that petting a cat will make an aggressive person calmer. Petting lowers blood pressure and releases feel good chemicals in the brain. This is the primary job of a service cat.

The Institute of Mental Health lists the best definition of PTSD I’ve heard. “PTSD is an anxiety disorder that some people get after seeing or living through a dangerous event”.

When in danger, it’s natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in PTSD, this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger.” (Ref: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/what-is-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-or-ptsd.shtml).

The danger doesn’t have to be real anymore. It may be a perception based on past events. A service cat performs a job through petting that physically and emotionally calms down someone who suffers from PTSD. John mentioned his cat also calms him when he has nightmares that leave him clawing at his bed. Patch comes over and licks his face.

I hope I’ve shed some light on this subject to the readers here as well as to those interested in service animals in general. I’m a bit disappoint in myself as I haven’t a clue on how to put a returning veteran in touch with an agency who will provide a service cat. My best guess would be the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Under a bill written by Senator Al Franken, veterans with PTSD will get a service dog as part of the program run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Not one word is mentioned on service cats.

I find this sad. Many cats sitting in shelters would love to be a healer. That’s what I consider these cats. They heal the invisible wounds brought home by these returning veterans. If anyone knows more information, please add it to the comment section.

Elisa

Service cats to home page

Source: http://www.neatorama.com/2008/01/19/wendy-the-service-cat/

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Service Cats

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Dec 13, 2011
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i’ll work on it this week
by: elisaMy good pc bit the dust. I’ll work on that story and have it online by the weekend. Been researching it awhile now. Trouble is the law is different in each state so I can only offer examples.

Dec 13, 2011
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!!!!!!!!!!!Repeat request of Elisa!
by: Grahame Elisa, can you give me fuller and better particulars concerning illegality of requiring written “proof” of service animal status? Many landlords know nothing bout these matters and discriminate painfully against tenants.

Dec 09, 2011
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6400 mornings for the other service cat.
by: Grahame With the Cat Sasha member of the duo, it was about 6400 morning ceremonies. After all of that, the new void is extremely disorienting, you can bet. I’m at sixes and sevens today. “I get a little help from my [human] friends.”

Dec 09, 2011
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My own service cats
by: Grahame An extremely timely post, Elisa. On a subject dear to my heart. I had two cats for almost two decades concurrently. Alas, I lost one to cancer in February, and the other yesterday, to a short, sharp virulent fulminating disease which killed her in three days.These two were my joy, as I often sang to them, and they were my best nurses when bouts of black depression struck. I had their status officialized and they were prescribed to me as service cats. For 5110 monings we had our “greeting each other and the new day” routine. Until this morning. I am confused and bereft now.
Is our life worth all this pain?

Elisa, can you give me fuller and better particulars concerning illegality of requiring written “proof” os service animal status? Many landlords know nothing bout these matters and discriminate painfully against tenants.


Dec 09, 2011
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Rescue
by: Elisa I consider these cats as rescuers as they rescue their human companions from a lifetime of stress and loneliness. But I’m afraid you’re right Michael. Most men will prefer the macho image of having a dog companion.

Dec 09, 2011
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Excellent
by: Michael Thanks ELisa for an excellent and thought provoking article.Cats are better for calming a person I would have thought. They are well known for that quality.

Whereas dogs are more demanding and/or a pack animal so they follow their leader; the guy with PTSD.

The thing is that army personnel being mostly men will probably go for a dog as that is the kind of thing that rocks their boat. It’s a pack animal team work thing.

This is a shame and it requires a mind set change in the forces. It’s all a bit sad because as you say a good cat could really help a person with PSTD.



Comments

Service Cats — 4 Comments

  1. I am A Vet with PTSD and if I didn’t have Oscar for a companion my depression would become worse and my feeling safe would diminish. He follows me like a dog and also comes to me when his name is called. My doctors know he is an important part of therapy as well.

    • Hi, thanks for commenting. It is nice to her from a vet who has a cat for therapeutic purposes. I guess you like cats too. I’d love to hear more from you. If you have time could you please write something down on your computer and copy and paste it into the from on this page:

      http://pictures-of-cats.org/Visitor-Input-Form.html

      Thanks again for visiting and the very best of luck to you.

  2. I have PTSD. I had nightmares, anxiety, and overall “twitchiness” that would not go away. I tried medication, hypnosis, yoga, Reiki, you name it.. I still had nightmares. My chiropractor suggested I get a kitten. Within weeks, my nightmares stopped. 2 years later, Loki and I have a special connection. If you want to hear more about my Loki… feel free to email me leahped@gmail.com

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