This is an interesting and positive cat story that throws up a host of discussion topics and some hurdles.
Justine LaViolette is a student living on campus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She suffers from anxiety.
I think she was wise to consider an alternative to anti-anxiety medication especially when the alternative was a cat companion.
There were some hurdles to overcome. Her therapist agreed it was a good idea – a good start. The big hurdle it seems to me was to obtain the agreement of the university to allow her to keep a cat while on campus.
Her therapist presented her client’s case to the office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) and they approved, which was an enlightened approach.
The university refer to Justine’s cat, Tod, as an ‘assistance animal’. Justine calls Tod her ‘therapy animal’.
The terminology is important because only assistance animals are allowed in residence halls. The terminology; ‘service animal’ is reserved for dogs and horses.
I am probably missing something but this seems to be about semantics.
SSD have to follow the Fair Housing Act in respect of assistance animals. Perhaps they have to use the phrase ‘assistance animal’ because it is in the Fair Housing Act.
Tod was adopted from the Richardson County Humane Society, Falls City; another nice aspect of this story.
Justine sums up nicely the benefits of caring for a cat companion,
“Tod acts as a tether to reality for me, in case I’m feeling overwhelmed,” LaViolette said. “Just having a warm body there in the room with me alleviates some of my dread.”
The other students are generally positive about a cat living at the halls of residence. I would expect one or two though to be against it; there always will be.
Here is the downside for me; Tod must stay in Justine’s room and it must be a small room. Also Justine can’t leave Tod with another student or alone overnight. She has to pay a surcharge and agree to pay for any repairs that might be required due to Tod’s presence.
I love the story and the attitudes of the people involved. It is formal recognition of the benefits of caring for a cat. To substitute medication with a cat might inspire others to do the same. It is far more healthy to avoid anti-anxiety medication if one can.
The mutual benefits are there for all to see; a cat saved from a rescue facility and a person saved from taking long term medications which can be addictive and affect performance.
I also like the idea of a cat ‘working’ in a sense. This is good for the cat’s public profile. Dogs are known to be more useful in terms of serving people so this tells people that cats can do the same work sometimes.
The problems relate to the practicalities of looking after a cat who is confined to a small room while the owner is young and liable to away from her room quite a lot of the time. Tod really is providing a service.
There is probably one last point to make. Justine will probably complete her university degree in three years. At that time she’ll have no other option but to take Tod with her to her next home. I will presume that has all been thought through.