Physically and mentally disabled people are often granted “service animals” to tend to them when they’re home alone, running errands, or just having tough days with their conditions. Service dogs have been used for many years; for example, seeing eye dogs. They are trained to stay alert and observe their owner’s surroundings for any threats, danger, or just missteps off the curb.
A dog in the service of a paraplegic would be trained differently. That animal would learn to find help should their master fall while at home alone, or position themselves just right and hoist the person off the ground, sound off special barks to convey important messages to the owner, etc. It’s amazing what dogs can learn to do, and how their skill mastery can change a disabled person’s life overnight.
Oh, I almost forgot… there are service cats, too. Yes ma’am, there sure are! In fact, I have one myself. The rules are different for cats, however, and so are the official titles. Since cats aren’t strong enough to lift or tote a grown person and their daytime vision is rather limited, they don’t make the cut for traditional service animals. But, as always, cats reign supreme because their uncanny foresight, intuition, and emotion “antennae,” if you will, make them ideal companions and therapy pets for people suffering with mental illnesses. I can testify, from personal experience, that cats can save a life just as much as a dog can, just with a distinct set of skills. Here’s a little story for you: my cat woke me up one night, tickling my face with her whiskers. I froze, not sure if she was trying to tell me something or if she was just checking on me. The next thing I knew, she smashed her face up to my mouth, and started panting. I, of course, asked a vet, and although we’ll probably never know for sure, the vet said it sounded like the effort a new mother will make to resuscitate a kitten that stopped breathing. I’m biased, and I believe my cat is amazing at everything, so my opinion is void here! However, I do know that animals do incredible things for those they love every day, and I have no doubt in my mind that she would do ANYTHING within her power to protect and save me, if necessary.
Do Cats Rule and Dogs Drool?
No! Well, yes, because cats are the royalty of their territory (homework assignment: go challenge your cat for his/her throne real quick!), and dogs tend to slobber when hot, thirsty or, depending on the breed, excited. This is one contest in which both animals are evenly tied. Service dogs have strength, training, and practice to aid them with their charges. Cats rely on their human to teach them what they need to know, but not necessarily through training (although, for the record, cats DO respond well to training with positive reinforcement, and they are pro’s at learning to mimic actions they’ve seen 1,000 times). Cats pinpoint changes in their surroundings with their sharp hearing and sense of smell. They also use the “antennae” I mentioned to feel out our moods and emotions, and combine that to what they hear and smell. If it adds up to danger or distress, they act a little from memory, but mostly on instinct, letting their bond with their sick human be their guide.
For example, my cat always, ALWAYS knows when I’m angry or sad, about 2-3 days before anyone else does. She comes into the room, “speaking” loudly and sharply, warning off any physical stressor that might be here. Once she’s satisfied, she jumps in my lap, sniffs me from hair line to belly button, and mulls over that info for a minute. If she decides I need to eat, or I need a Coke, she will run into the kitchen and meow mercilessly at the fridge, until I get up to see what’s wrong. She then rubs on the fridge with purpose, like the two of them are a hot couple, until I finally open the door and get out what she thinks I need. If she senses an anxiety attack, she will not leave my side, no matter how many times I accidentally squish her. She escorts me to the bathroom, to the mailbox, even to the other side of the bed, until either the attack passes or she prevents it.
Her newest method lately is, if cuddling and supervision fails, she will find something, ANYTHING, to play with, and start kicking and playing like a 6-week-old kitten. She just turned 3, so it’s pretty adorable. So far, she hasn’t failed to make me giggle and entice me to play with her, and by then I’m centered and solid again.
Kudos to ALL Service Animals!
My crazy long story aside, no service animal should be considered “better,” or “more useful” than another. Just like with any other therapy or medication, it depends on the person and their unique condition. A person with severe anxiety and/or personality disorder might be overwhelmed by a large dog that moved too quickly, even though the dog was just rushing to do his/her duty. The person could frighten or hurt the dog, or be injured by the dog if he or she felt that the only way to subdue the human was to attack.
There are other animals permitted to become service animals, such as mini horses. They would be more useful to a disabled person who lived on a large piece of land than a dog or cat, especially if it couldn’t be tended properly, or if it was used as a farm or ranch. To each his own (talents)!
Told Ya We’re Biased!
Even though all service animals are incredible, and though we DO adore all animals, we’d still take our sweet feline guardians any day! There is just something that a strong bond with a cat can do for broken emotions and scary mental battles that our parents can’t even accomplish sometimes. Something about the untrained actions and devotion is… healing magic. We wouldn’t trade that for anything!