Cats helping people to manage PTSD
by Elisa Black-Taylor
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.