The world can seem like an endlessly dangerous place for people suffering from PTSD. Recently, I had the privilege of traveling with the Bayer Pet Influencer Group to Jacksonville, Florida where we were able to tour the K9s For Warriors facility. This organization uses dogs to help veterans with PTSD to live normal lives again. They do wonderful work! It made me wonder – could cats help people with PTSD too?
What is PTSD?
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a mental health condition caused by experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event. Most often, PTSD is associated veterans of the armed forces, but it can be experienced by anyone. Sexual and physical assault, experiencing natural disasters, childhood abuse, serious accidents, and witnessing violence against someone else are all common causes of PTSD. Both children and adults can suffer from PTSD.
Sufferers experience PTSD differently. The symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe. They can begin immediately after the traumatic event or years later. A few symptoms are:
A nervous, jittery feeling that something dangerous is about to happen.
Feeling that you are reliving your traumatic event. This may be experienced in the form of nightmares.
- Avoiding Triggers
Avoiding situations or people that remind them of the trauma they’ve been through.
Feelings of guilt, shame, and general unhappiness. Lack of interest in once pleasurable activities. The world may seem like a dangerous place full of people that can’t be trusted.
Like other mental health conditions, there are 2 main treatments available for people suffering from PTSD: psychotherapy and medication. Symptoms can become less severe or even disappear when these treatments are used properly. Anyone who believes they may have PTSD should contact a local mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment.
K9s For Warriors
K9s For Warriors is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that trains service dogs for veterans of the US armed forces that are suffering from PTSD. They Can Cats Help People Suffering from PTSD?refer to these veterans as “warriors”. The service dogs are provided to qualified warriors at no cost. The mission of K9s for Warriors is to stop the daily suicides of veterans (there have been 130,000 since the 9/11 terror attacks).
The service dogs trained by K9s for Warriors are chosen from animal rescues throughout the United States. They must meet age, size, and breed requirements in order to be chosen for the program. Training can last anywhere from 3 – 6 months. During the last 3 weeks of a dog’s training, the warriors are brought in, paired with the dogs, and they are given special training together at the K9s for Warriors facility in Florida. The dogs have to learn to provide whatever services may be necessary for their particular warrior.
What About Service Cats?
In the United States, the law governing the use of service animals is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ADA gives people with service animals the right to bring their service animal into all public buildings (stores, restaurants, office buildings, etc). Service animals are also allowed to accompany the person they are serving on airplanes and other forms of public transportation. It is important to note that the ADA views service animals as medical equipment rather than as pets.
Unfortunately for cat lovers, the ADA defines “service animals” specifically as dogs and miniature horses. Why not include cats? In the case of some disabilities, cats are not large enough to provide the physical support necessary. For example, a cat could not support the whole of an adult human’s weight to save them from falling or help them up from a chair. There are also those that believe that cats could not be trained to reliably assist a person with disabilities. Very few studies have been done that can show a cat’s ability to help care for a disabled person.
Hope for Cat Lovers with PTSD
If you are a cat lover suffering from PTSD (or any other disability) don’t let the current ADA restrictions on service animals make you feel defeated. Cats are still permitted to be companion animals, emotional support animals (speak to your mental health provider about this), and therapy animals.
Despite their critics, cats can be trained to do a lot of amazing things – including help you with your PTSD symptoms. It is all a matter of your cat’s personality and your willingness to train them (or get the help you need to train them). There are plenty of stories from PTSD sufferers who feel that their cats help them (click here, here, or here to read a few). Cats can be very sensitive to emotional changes in their favorite humans.
There is no reason why you can’t train your cat to help you in your home or in public places where they are lawfully permitted to be. The number of pet-friendly businesses across the US is growing. In many cases, individual business owners and management make the final decision about whether or not a cat would be permitted to accompany you onto their property. Never be afraid to ask for permission!
Important note: Make sure that your cat is actually trained to accompany you in public places. One of the reasons business owners are timid about allowing pets is because they’ve seen unruly, disruptive pets. They don’t want their place of business torn apart or other customers harrassed! The more that they see that cats are polite guests, the more welcoming they will be.
You can take action and prove that cats should be added to the ADA’s definition of service animal. Communicate with professors at your local universities. Let them know how important you think it is to do studies on the training of cats as service animals. Write to the big pet-related companies and ask them to invest in these studies. Pool together with other cat lovers and organizations to get the research started. Getting the law changed to admit cats will be much easier when there is sturdy proof that shows cats can do the job.