Can cats be support animals? Yes, of course, but does the law recognise it?

Can cats be support animals? Or can they be assistance animals? Or can they be emotional support animals? Or can they be service animals? The language and the law are muddled. It depends where you live. An American pet insurance company says that cats cannot be service animals because cats are not recognised by current ADA requirements.

The UK has a problem as well on cats being assistance animals. Ian Fenn has an assistance animal and she is a cat: Chloe. She is a rescue cat. He was in Sainsbury’s in Clapham, south London in March. He needs Chloe because he has autism and she calm him as he suffers from “sensory overload in busy environments and I tend to shut down”.

Chloe helps him to focus. He’s been taking her out for about a year. He was told to leave Sainsbury’s by a worker as he had Chloe on his shoulder. The employee said that the only animals allowed in Sainsbury’s were trained assistance dogs such as guide dogs and hearing dogs.

Ian Fenn disagrees. He knows the law. He told them: “There is no law for guide dogs other than the duty to make reasonable adjustments, which also applies to assistance cats. And also to guide ponies. Trust me, I know my stuff. Anyway, I’m looking for a duck paste. Have you got any?”

He was kicked out of Sainsbury’s and he is suing the company. He wants a judge to compel Sainsbury’s to change its policy. He is seeking compensation as a secondary matter. Sainsbury’s said that they want to be helpful and inclusive. They want to find a solution that balances “maintaining high food hygiene standards with supporting all our customers who shop with us”.

Remarkably, it seems that domestic cats are seen as less hygienic than dogs which doesn’t make sense. And it seems that Sainsbury kicked him out on hygiene matters.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission advises businesses that they must accept assistance dogs. The reason according to them is that assistance dogs are “highly trained, have regular veterinary treatments and are tested on a regular basis to make sure they don’t present a health risk”. That’s the problem with cats: they are informal assistance animals and are not tested on a regular basis.

This seems to be an oversight. Why shouldn’t cats be classified as assistance animals? If they were, they could be regulated in the same way that dogs are.

There has been an increase in assistance animals of all kinds over recent years. And there has been a pushback as a consequence. For example, in 2018, airlines in America received 76,000 requests to carry emotional support animals. Many were granted including for pigs, turkeys and horses et cetera.

It got out of hand and the airlines decided to reduce the numbers. This was on the back of a ruling by the US Department of Transportation in 2020 that airlines need only consider trained dogs.

In Fenn was accosted by a number of Sainsbury’s employees. This was because he resisted leaving the shop. He said that he “ended up becoming quite upset”. He also said that he “stayed in the house for two weeks before I got the confidence back to go out”.

People are just not used to seeing cats as assistance animals. It is unconventional. People expect to see dogs on leads but not cats on their owner’s shoulder wandering around the aisle of a supermarket. I would suggest that Sainsbury’s review their policy because cats are very effective therapy animals. Ian Fenn would certainly agree.

The Times reports on the interesting therapy animal story concerning Lord Lloyd-Webber. He said that an airline allowed him to take his Havanese puppy Mojito in the cabin with him because he is a therapy dog to Lloyd-Webber. He said: “I wrote off and said I needed him with me at all times because I’m emotionally damaged and I must have this therapy dog. The airline wrote back and said, ‘Can you prove that you really need him?’

“And I said, ‘Yes, just see what Hollywood did to my musical Cats.’ The approval came back with a note saying, ‘No doctor’s report required.'”

RELATED: Andrew Lloyd Webber is wrong to criticise the movie version of “Cats” the musical

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