Adventures in Service Cat Training.

Modeling her new harness
Modeling her new harness

World's Cutest Kitten Goes To Work.

Some animals have it, others don't.  A service animal needs to be able to cope with the rigors of daily life for it's partner, because we can't do those things for ourselves.  "A service animal is not a pet"  is repeated a zillion times.  That means, first and foremost you and your needs come first.

Willetta is five months old now.  She's still a bit flighty for too much training, but I'm going to start her on the easier tasks.  She needs three tasks that she can perform on command to be legal. They cannot be something a pet cat would do normally, they must relate specifically to my disabilities.  She must be trained to behave well in public at all times, to walk on a leash and always be under control.

So far, she is harness and leash trained.  She rides nicely in shopping cart baskets. If something frightens her, I just hold her and let her investigate from the safety of being held.  Usually once does it.  I purposely take her around noisy grasscutters, construction noises, what ever I can find, or what ever she looks startled at. She rides in the passenger side, and I'll be getting a safety seat for her soon.

The first thing I'll teach her is to be an obnoxious nag.  She already knows how to do this, believe me!  All I do is reinforce her natural tendencies to work for me.  In the first case, to bug me to take my medications until I actually do. This may involve waking me up, getting my attention off the computer (much more difficult)  or distracting me from whatever I am hyper-focused on.  Not only will this be the easiest to train, but it's something I have a problem with that needs to be corrected as soon as possible.  I need a more reliable timer, but I'll start with just my alarm clock.

The hardest part of any training is that I have to be consistent. Obviously, I have a problem with this, or I wouldn't need the service.  It would be nice if I had an experienced trainer to help me, but the only one I know trains dogs and is allergic to cats, so she is an adviser only. Most the training guides out there are for dogs, but hey, Willetta and I are adaptable.

She will also be trained to let me know if someone is at the door, the phone rings, or she hears an emergency vehicle close by.  To pat me if I am having an anxiety attack, the distraction and being able to hold her breaks the pattern.  She will also fetch a small, special phone if I fall and it's not on me.  I may get one that just dials 911 and teach  her to call under the right circumstances.  Now you see why I am starting with the easy tasks!

Training kids, training cats

I rarely leave the house anymore without one of the children asking if Willetta can come out for a walk. As I get further into Willetta's training, I'm less sure about letting the children walk her. But as I watched them gather around her today, each demanding politely a turn with her, I realized it wasn't just Willetta I am training.

These are a really remarkable bunch of children. I think the oldest is about 10, the youngest still not speaking in full sentences, but he can already skateboard. For the most part, they play happily together, watch out for each other and protect the youngest. Squabbles are short and made up quickly. No bullies in this part of the complex, and we all keep a sharp eye out for any that appear. There is always at least one parent in attendance, more as more children get home from school.

Some of the children have half siblings to Willetta, just a month older. One group doesn't have any animals because the Dad doesn't want them, and the little girls are kitten-starved, They come from seven families, and of course, quite varied situations. But when it comes to Willetta, they automatically take turns. Sometimes who's turn and how long is hotly disputed, and she always gets tired before every one gets a turn, but they are good about it.

Some of them are natural animal lovers. One small boy, not yet three, reached out and gently stroked her the first time he met her. There are no animals in his household. But there was the same rapt look in two pairs of blue eyes.

Today was beautiful. One of the neighbors had friends over for a barbecue. These uninitiated folks looked a little bemused when I re-emerged with a small white cat wearing a bright blue vest and walking on a multicolored leash. Children who had been playing all over the court suddenly converged on one spot. The adults looked a bit shocked, my neighbors are so used to it now that I don't think they explained for a few minutes what was going on. Some of my neighbors wandered over to say their own greetings to Willetta and chuck her under the chin. Even the dad who doesn't like animals forgot himself and tickled her and spoke to her like she is a person. He may be beginning to catch up to his childrens level of understanding some day.

I have to explain, usually every time because some of the children are so young, that Willetta has rules and must be walked in a certain way. No yanking on the leash. No screaming our shouting around her...that's actually for me. Only one child touching the leash at a time. Never, ever drag her. Respect her as a being all her own, and her status as my helper. The one child touching the leash at a time is a hard one for them. Willetta is often so surrounded by her fans that she really can't walk much. Today one toddler picked her up, he couldn't quite hold her properly and her eyes crossed a little bit more, but she never struggled. Before I could reach them, three little girls had rescued her.James, the little boy was quite offended. She may have been in a slightly awkward position, but he knows not to hold her too tight. He's a rough and tumble boy, big for his age, but he's gentle with Willetta. He may grab her tail and hold on, but he never pulls it. Again, the crowd of mini mamas rescue Willetta and sooth James frustration.

In time, Willetta was tired and wanted to come to mommy. At this point I get a lot of protests that they haven't had their turn, that she didn't walk for them, they hadn't gotten to hold her. I explain she is a child, just like they are, and she gets tired and needs to lay down. I get hugs and thank you's and the children scatter back to their games.

Now, I am one of them. They break off playing to come say hi or give me a hug. Oh, those hugs are sweet to someone who has no grandkids of her own. Today for the first time, my little redheaded boy came to me and took my hand and wanted to show me something. The "something" turned out to be two of the visiting children wildly riding one of those rides on a spring. They were totally delighted and totally delightful! I have no idea why he wanted to show me that, but he was right, I loved it. After a few more minutes of wild riding, the child on the back hopped off and offered Issac his seat. The happy yells of all three little boys mingled with the background noise of Tag! and My turn! and the smell of good barbecue.

Back inside, I collapsed on the couch, and Willetta sensibly collapsed in front of Moosie, who immediately began to groom her. Watching her look smugly ecstatic and seeing his look of rapt adoration, I think she got the better part of the deal. But then after all, she was the one entertaining a large group of children!

Comments 22 comments

cottontail profile image

cottontail 6 years ago from Los Angeles, California

what an interesting subject!


TigerLillyRose profile image

TigerLillyRose 6 years ago Author

Thanks! I'm finding it hard to get information, so it's like a seek and find game too. Today we went for a walk, after we come home, she just sat by the door. Look, mom, I still have my harness on, I want more walk! Since one of my problems has been being able to leave the house at all, she's already been a great help. Next thing I'll know, she'll be bringing me her leash!


d.william profile image

d.william 6 years ago from Somewhere in the south

I have had cats all my life. I never knew you could train them. It usually has been the other way around. They seem to have trained me quite well. I feed them when they ask for food. They have me trained to clean their litter box after they poop. And not to move too fast or roll over in bed before checking to see if they are laying next to me or not. Hmmmm. I guess they found a sucker in me and i train easily.


TigerLillyRose profile image

TigerLillyRose 6 years ago Author

Sure, that's why I contend cats are smarter than people. I jump through all the hoops and just because they are fun to look at, entertaining, warm and cuddly, with a nice purr. They can train a good human in days, sometimes in hours! Fortunately they are benevolent and are willing to do things to keep their pet happy.


anniek 5 years ago

I am looking at possibly needing a service animal down the road, and a dog is not feasable, besides, I'm a cat person anyway. But yes, finding info and training is rough, so I admire what you have been doing. Gives me some thoughts for myself. Thank you for sharing


Molly 5 years ago

Do you mind if I ask why you need a service animal?

We're casting for a new television series. It’s a compassionate and educational look at service animals helping people with mental health issues. We're looking for people in all phases of training, including people that already have been working in a team for many years and people who haven't yet started training.

Your story sounds really interesting, and I’d love to speak to you and any of the commenters here about possibly being part of the show. Please contact me at mabrams@redmarblemedia.net or 646-723-2547.

Thanks.


TigerLillyRose 5 years ago

Nope, don't mind at all. I have fibromyaligia among other conditions, possibly brought on through post traumatic stress. Also a hearing disability, so I'll contact you through your email, thanks for the interest.


Spaz Cat 5 years ago

How do you get the training needed to be a certified service cat? I've been trying to search for any info anywhere and not been having much luck. I've got a disability and my cat follows me everywhere (especially bugs me when something isn't right with me even before I feel anything). Email me: Info@SpazCat.com with any suggestions.


TigerLillyRose 5 years ago

There isn't any official training. And since they changed the law only dogs and minature horses can be "certified". And the catch to that is, there IS no certification. All it means is if you get refused to let your animal in, you have legal recourse. I have a doctors permit for mine, and I just put a tag on her harness. I don't ever say she is a "service animal", and no one ever asks. I don't take her into grocery stores or restaurants, cause that's a whole nother ball of wax. If she is well behaved no one I've talked to seems to care. For a service dog to qualify, it has to be trained to have three responses related to your health issue. They don't count their being able to sense you are about to have an attack, although most the animals I meet are exactly that. I can sure understand, if I don't have an animal with me, and someone walks in with one, I can feel my anxiety drop like a rock. Well, it's probably my blood pressure, but all I know is I feel better. And the animals trained for seizures quite often respond to me, even across a large crowded room.


AllBlue 5 years ago

I didn't know my cat was such a help during the night and early morning, truly a service animal. I also have several ailments (fibro, RH, cancer survivor, depression) so I take medication which makes me drowsey, my all blue slightly long hair (short hair) female cat pesters me to awakeness. We are a pair which happened by chance. I also need to have her certified for train travel (my favorite airline had no problem). You are correct about training a kitty cat, you are not just teaching the cat you are teaching all. Wonderful!


Marie 4 years ago

Tigerlillyrose:

I too am having the same disabilities as you and would like to learn how to train my cat.

So far she only can tell when Im about to have an attack and runs toward me and starts licking me. But I would like her to do more.

Could you please email me more information?

i do not plan on bringing her in public places... however I might want to bring her with me in my college dorm (but I know the Cat laws just changed)

Thank You:)

your article was very inspiring!

-Marie

hxlinkinpark56x@aim.com


mareskeezix profile image

mareskeezix 4 years ago

My daughter has a certified service dog that works well with her. I have a service cat Skeezix, hence my name. Skeezix has thwarted suicide attempts, has bugged me into taking my meds, has worked on both of my sides of my bipolar, you name it. She has been at this for officially 6 years and many more. She is 13 years old, harness and leash trained. When we are out in public I get comments about how people would not be able to get their cats to do what I do. I just tell them that Skeezix and I have been doing this for a very long time. I saved her from being run over by cars and she saves my life.I would be dead without her. Where did you get Willettas harness? I never thought about having other children trained to properly handle her. Now you have more allies to help you in a time of need. Skeezix's mom


TigerLillyRose profile image

TigerLillyRose 4 years ago Author

Hi Skeezix's mom.

I got her harness at a local feed store, but you can find them in pet stores and stores like Walmart too. I also have a very cute bright harness with a matching leash I bought at the local cat shelter...all proceeds go to saving more cats. I really love the mesh harnesses, they seem much more comfortable when the cat has to wear them for hours on end. My cats that aren't leash trained will flop on their side and look disgusted at first, but soon forget about them. When Morpheus, my 18 lb Maine Coon clone developed diabetes and had to be hauled to the vet all the time, well those carriers added more weight. I can't lift much, and he didn't like riding in the car in one at all. I'm also very leery of transporting a cat in a carrier without a harness since one of mine escaped the carrier on the way into the vet. Morphy was much easier to handle without the carrier. He did prefer the carrier while actually having to wait in the sitting room.

I guess I'm training adults now too. A neighbor recently married and her new husband is animal crazy. He had never heard of leash training a cat, but he's all for it now.

All my cats are clicker trained now, at least to the extent they know treats will follow.

Willetta isn't as well trained as at first, my fault entirely for not keeping it up. She surprised me recently when she suddenly insisted on getting out of the shopping cart. After a few minutes of arguing with her I figured out she was either trying to tell me something or needed the cat box (I carry one in the car) Once we were in the car she calmed right down, ignored the cat litter box. I took the hint and just waited. Sure enough in a few minutes I was weak and dizzy. She knew I had a blood sugar problem a good fifteen minutes before I realized it!

She is such a funny little girlie girl. Definitely the "I'm the baby, gotta love me" poster kitten. She has somehow charmed Jazz, who has always hated other cats, into not only getting along, but actually sitting still for Moosie to groom her. She loves racing down the stairs, with Moosie in hot pursuit, dashing across the living area to sliiiiide on the kitchen floor. Moosie is an African serval, a spotted cat the size of a German shepherd. He's about 45 lbs, so he can't slow down as quickly, so she flips around and dashes back under his tummy. She adores him, and he of course practically worships her. After Morphy died in December, she seemed to understand the loss and became even more attached to Moosie. They are so adorable I have got to get a web cam set up to film them.

At the beginning of the year I got a new caregiver. Rebekah is young and bright and moves fast. This spooks Moosie a bit, but he always hates anyone who cleans the house. Willetta on the other hand finds her totally fascinating. She follows Rebekah, flopping on her feet the moment she stands still, "helping" with every project to the extent we sometimes have to put her in the cat room so we can get anything done.

Today I think Willetta had found some nip. She loves to sit up like a meerkat and box with her front paws. Rebekah was playing with her when Willetta started dancing, springing into the air in great swoops following Rebekah's hand. I'm thinking about starting a website for these crazy critters, they are just too funny and smart to be believed!


mareskeezix profile image

mareskeezix 4 years ago

Hi TillyLillyRose,

I am writing an essay for a writing class and ask if I may use and quote some of our conversation and your original story in my essay. I am trying to show how in spite of current law some of us still have our service animals [cats] helps us as well as love us and are part of our lives as would a service dog would be. Personally, I have nothing against a dog, my daughter has graced me with a beautiful granddog, who is her service dog. It just cats are more in tune to me than dogs.

So much for school, I'm writing this while I am in class. Skeezix was helping me write or type last night. I think she just wanted me to give her my seat on the sofa because she was cold and I was giving her a warm place to sit for the evening. She does that sometimes. You have not certified any of your cats or have you? By the way what do you think of this certifying business stuff anyways?

Gotta go and work on this paper, later.


TigerLillyRose profile image

TigerLillyRose 4 years ago Author

Ooo, I'd be honored to be quoted. Be my guest.

When I talked to the certification people, they said the laws were changed because too many people were using it just so they could take their pets with them. Um, ok, I see that could be a problem, but why punish those of us with real disabilities? It's illegal to claim your animal is a service animal when it's not, so why not just make decent rules and fine the people who break them? They also told me that none of the service animals that have been working for years will be considered, only dogs and mini horses.

There is nothing at all to prove an animal is certified. No documents, no patches, no official training. It just means that if you are denied access somewhere because of your service animal, you can take them to court and force them to let you enter. That's it. Zip. I don't really see how the "only dogs and miniature horses" rule works, since none of the business owners I have talked to had any idea the law was changing. None of them cared so long as the animal was well behaved. But I'm really looking forward to the day I see a mini horse in the grocery store!

What needs to changed is the whole idea that a service animal is strictly physical support. Mental syndromes aren't recognized, yet most the people I talk to count that as the main thing they depend on their companion animal for. We have a ton of evidence now that animals lower blood pressure, ease anxiety and help with mental illness. Some prisons are even allowing animal therapy, they found inmates were less violent and fewer repeat offenders than the control group without animal therapy. Various animals besides dogs are allowed in hospital programs, so why should we be denied the benefit in our daily lives? I have papers from my doctor and my therapist attesting my animals are necessary to my well being. The only time I have been asked for them was when I applied for HUD housing in an apartment with a no pet policy. This year the complex, which is low-income with a lot of disabled, decided to allow pets. Maybe they finally figured out since almost everyone here has a pet, they might as well charge for the privilege the ones that aren't medically approved.

Once I took a bunch of animals to a living assisted facility. I had a coatie and some other exotics you normally only see on Animal Planet. I also had my therapy cat with me. The people were fascinated and charmed by the exotics but the one everyone wanted to hold and pet was the cat. Partly I think because she was so clearly pleased with the attention. One gentleman in his 80s even said he had been a dog person all his life, he had never realized how affectionate a cat was. He asked if his family could bring a cat to visit him, and the facility said they would be delighted.

Here's a link to an article about how cats are helping in prisons around the world. In some, feral cat colonies moved in and when the prisoners responded so well, became a feature of their rehab.

http://jennifercopley.suite101.com/prison-cats-cha...


mareskeezix profile image

mareskeezix 4 years ago

Right now I feel like the ADA is against those of us who cannot tolerate dogs to well. I like dogs. However, I find them overwhelming. Cats read me and I read them better. I demonstrated it in class when I talked about Skeezix after I read my paper. I brought her resume for everyone to read. The entire group was surprised at job duties that frankly I take for granted.

I believe this country is very dog centered. I mean look at all the publishing advertising, and stores. I feel we are lost. Also the service system is set up for physical support, not the mental support. I have been successful with most businesses because Skeezix is quiet and "well behaved" naturally. She rescues me everyday and she knows that.

By the way the paper went very well. Surprised everyone who read it. I would not mind sending you a PRIVATE copy.


TigerLillyRose profile image

TigerLillyRose 4 years ago Author

Ooo, I would love that! And yes, I agree about ADA completely. Some of the business owners I've talked to would actually prefer cats. I can't walk a dog as much as it would take to keep it happy and healthy. While I would be happy to jump through their hoops if they would actually certify my cat, Willetta and I will continue to go our own way. I figure some disabled lawyer with dog allergies will eventually point out the discrimination going on. When I talked to them they really didn't seem to have a real understanding about service animals besides dogs. Oh, and I talked to one service cat owner who flies a lot, and she said the airlines had less problem with her cat than her daughter's seeing eye dog.

I'm in heaven right now with two newborn kittens I'm bottle feeding. Willetta turns two this month and I barely got to bottle feed at all last year. Willetta loves it because when there is a tiny bit of formula left over she gets a taste, heavily watered, but she doesn't care!


Christi 3 years ago

Hello, I'd love more information and be able to talk and discuss about service cats. I'be had a service cat for 7 years and I can't imagine my life without her. The ADA is only a federal ruling while some states including mine allow other service animals in public. I'd love to discuss it all feel free to email me tgainsbrough (@) yahoo.com. I'm starting a facebook group to promote service cat use and getting laws from all states. I'd like to eventually go federal to get service cats back on the ADA.


CynthiaBailey-Rug profile image

CynthiaBailey-Rug 3 years ago

Hello!

I just came across your article.. fascinating! I was wondering if you can give tips for training a service cat or point me in the direction of books or websites. I have Complex PTSD & one of my cats is very in tune with me- I think he'd make an excellent service cat with proper training. Just yesterday he helped me during a flashback. Anyway, any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Feel free to email me at CynthiaBaileyRug@aol.com if you like. Thank you & God bless. (by the way, Willetta is an absolute beauty!)


SymieBell 2 years ago from Prescott, Arizona

Hi,

I have a wonderful certified seizure alert cat and was wondering if you wanted to swap training tips and just stories in general. His name is SymieBell and his FB page is https://m.facebook.com/profile.php?id=145830647776... if you would like to check it out or please free to shoot me an email.


Tabby Cat 18 months ago

Hello. My name is Tabitha and I suffer from anxiety as well as manic depression. My therapist just gave me a letter stating that he felt a service animal would be beneficial for me. And of course I'm a person who is only okay with dogs as long as they're someone else's.

Because of the fact I absolutely love cats I figured I would get a service cat to help me out. I would train it to go with me everywhere I go. So when I found your post I was glad to see that the way I was thinking wasn't to far off the couch, so to speak, but more so that to know that you have trained her to remind you to take your meds? I'm so interested on how you have done this. Was it with treats? If not then how? I have trained cats before but not for anything as serious as this.


Abbie C 9 months ago

This is a very interesting story!!

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