Service cats have always left me scratching me head, but questioning whether or not an animal is a true service animal is not a conversation I wish to initiate – in or out of the veterinary hospital. However, it piqued my interest since it is not an area veterinary medicine schooled me in.
Don’t get me wrong, cats (and all pets!) can do wonders for our mental health, but can they really be considered a service animal?
Can a cat be a service animal?
The short answer is no. Cats are not recognized by current ADA requirements.
Simply put, cats can be taught to walk on leashes and do tricks, but they cannot be taught to guide people who are blind, alert people who are deaf, pull a wheelchair, and more.
What is a service animal?
According to the most current ADA requirements, “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” According to the ADA, “dogs qualify as service animals when the owner has a documented disability, the dog is trained to perform a task to alleviate that disability, and the animal's presence in public does not alter the environment for others.”
How do people have service cats?
There is no government certification for service dogs, and owners aren't required to carry proof of a service dog's training, so some less than ethical pet parents fraudulently pass off their pets, even cats, as service animals in the name of the convenience of having their pet accompany them.
A quick Google search revealed multiple “service animal agencies” that allow one to “register” their pet for less than $100, no questions asked. The sites are quick to highlight in bold font, “not all disabilities are visible.”
To state it bluntly, if you see a “service cat,” understand that it is not certified by ADA standards.
What about emotional support animals?
Cats can be considered emotional support animals, but do not have the same allowances as service animals. A few requirements must be met In order to have a pet registered as an emotional support animal:
Prescribed by a licensed mental health professional or therapist
Animal must be housebroken and not a nuisance or danger to others
Must be under handler’s control at all times
People who abuse the system of having fake service animals or emotional support animals are doing great harm to those who truly need them. We all want our pets to be with us at all times, but don’t let that want affect someone else who needs it – it could save a life.
I fully admit that between my cats and myself, I will always be the service animal to them, much more than they ever could, or even would, be to me. While it is indeed disappointing that the government had to redefine its definition of a service animal, it seems they have decided that cats is not a true service animal. And neither will I, as a provider of veterinary services.