Yes, you read that correctly.
MSAR is now certifying Service CATS to expand accessibility to people with disabilities who cannot afford and/or care for service dogs.
Rescue cat SIX (pictured above - Now the FIRST MSAR Service Cat) has inspired us to pursue this program.
Wait. A service CAT? What is that?
It’s a cat who has passed newly developed MSAR testing to support and assist people with disabilities in their home.
Why service cats? Are dogs not working?
Dogs ARE working and have repeatedly been shown to improve the quality of life with those living with chronic illnesses and/or disabilities, BUT service dogs can be:
- Expensive to purchase ($20,000+),
- Expensive to maintain (vet bills, food, and grooming costs), and
- Physically demanding (outside several times per day, mental and physical exercise, ongoing training).
For some people with complex medical needs and/or disabilities, this makes a service dog inaccessible.
What can a service cat do?
Like dogs, cats can provide a sense of purpose and meaning to a person’s life. This is even more essential for those who are isolated due to disability and/or illness.
A service cat’s primary purpose is to be a companion, though it may also learn specific skills or tasks, such as:
- Wake you from a nightmare,
- Notify that someone has arrived
- Deescalate a panic attack with compression and placed purring, and/or
- Respond to a pre-set timer for sleep or medication.
What can a service cat NOT do?
Unlike service dogs, our feline friends will not have public access rights under our program. You CANNOT take your cat to the grocery store, the mall, on an airplane or to the bank. Service cats serve EXCLUSIVELY in the home under our program.
So, what’s the point of a certifying service cats?
The main point of a service cat is to ensure those with complex disabilities/medical needs (many of whom are unable to leave their homes regularly) can have/keep their cat in whatever housing situation they find themselves. As we know, poverty is both a cause and a consequence of disability. In Canada, 23% of people with disabilities are low income, compared to 9% of those without a disability (Government of Canada, 2014).
Housing is a primary expense for everyone, so it is no surprise that people with disabilities often face precarious housing arrangements. Having an animal could be a major barrier to safe, affordable, stable housing for a person with a disability.
- Another reason to certify service cats is that they require significantly less time and financial resources than dogs, while still providing much-needed companionship and some trained tasks for owners impacted by disability.
- A relatively small segment of the population can benefit from service dogs as the dogs themselves can be expensive to buy and maintain and require a significant amount of daily physical care.
- For people with some types of physical disabilities, as well as less visible disabilities that impact mood and behaviour, consistently caring for a dog is simply not possible.
- As you know, at MSAR we care a lot about our dogs. We recognize that not everyone with a disability has the resources and/or capacity to safely care for a dog day in and day out.
- We also care a lot about people, particularly people who are suffering in ways that can be lessened.
- Our experience with dogs has shown us that sometimes the most important service an animal can provide is predictable companionship and unconditional love. Cats do this with significantly less daily care than dogs.
- For a person who has a physical, cognitive, behavioural and/or psychiatric disability, and who may be isolated in their daily lives, a service cat is simply a better FIT for both the human and the animal.
Finally, MSAR has reason to believe that some cats can be trained to perform basic tasks like service dogs. For example, an MSAR pilot program indicates that cats can be trained to:
- Notify when someone is at the door.
- Respond to a pre-set timer for medications,
- De-escalate a panic attack with compression and placed purring, and
- Wake their person from a nightmare.
How do I get a service cat?
Unlike service dogs, we do not provide service cats. You can however train your cat with resources provided through the NEW MSAR Service Cat Program (see below).
How can I certify my cat?
MSAR has developed a series of criteria and tasks that cats must demonstrate before being given “Service Cat” status. Demonstration of criteria and tasks can be done by video and does not require any travel. MSAR has been working to develop these criteria in collaboration with various like minded stake holders.
How much does this cost?
If you have a cat that you think could qualify as a service cat, and this would benefit you in some way, please reach out to us! Beside the cost of the cat itself (and we know there are many cats in need of forever homes at local shelters!), the certification process is $400.
If cost is a barrier to you, please reach out to us anyway. Our priority as we start this program is to expand, not limit, accessibility.
What does the certification process entail?
In a nutshell, the process is:
- Qualifying for the program, which requires a note from your medical provider indicating that a service animal would be helpful to you,
- Familiarize yourself with the testing requirements provided by MSAR,
- Work with your cat to ensure they can demonstrate the tasks needed to meet the testing requirements,
- Take a video of your cat completing the requirements, and
- Send the video to MSAR for review and Certification.
What do I get in the end?
When your cat passes the Certification testing requirements in accordance with the conditions outlined by MSAR you will receive official certification documents from MSAR (paperwork, ID card, and Service Cat collar) to assist with housing and landlord requirements for Service Animal Access.