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Working Cats: Miscellany 7
John McGahey, a former medical corpsman and Vietnam veteran from Corpus Christi, Texas was first diagnosed in 1970 with PTSD post-traumatic stress disorder and suffered from flashbacks and a feeling of paranoia in public places. Years later, in July 2008, his doctor wrote him an unusual prescription. 'John McGahey needs a service pet,' he wrote. 'He plans on using a cat. This pet is allowed to travel with Mr McGahey anywhere.'
And so John acquired Patch, a six-month-old white cat who acted in a capacity that's much more usually filled by a dog. 'Stroking Patch helps to keep me calm', said John. 'And if I'm ripping the bed apart at night, he licks my face.' The apartment block of subsidised housing where John lived had him fill out paperwork and then photographed Patch, allowing him to keep the cat without charging a pet deposit. Patch travelled around with him in a specially designed pouch but at least initially he was denied access to various public places, although as a service animal Patch should have been allowed to accompany John anywhere. 'It's not like I'm trying to take an alligator with me,' John said. 'I just want people to know service animals can be other than dogs.'
Patch was accepted (in his pouch) at the local retailer where McGahey did his grocery shopping, after staff arranged it with store managers. Patch and his owner also regularly rode Regional Transportation Authority buses, but again he had to ask for permission, prompting RTA administrators to look up the Department of Transportation's stance on service animals for people with disabilities. The first time McGahey took Patch with him into the Veterans Administration medical clinic, he also encountered resistance; but after he presented a copy of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) definition of service animals and his doctor's prescription, he was allowed to keep the cat with him.
At the time the articles about him were written in late 2008, John was still not allowed to take Patch into local restaurants, which he felt was down to owners' misunderstanding of federal regulations: the ADA defines service animals as 'any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability', regardless of whether licensed or certified by a state or local government. However John did have the right to courthouse access, following a ruling by a county judge. 'Sometimes bureaucracy gets in the way of common sense,' said Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal, who defended McGahey's right to that access with Patch. 'As long as McGahey meets the criteria for ADA,' he said, 'he can carry his cat.'
We haven't found any more recent news of Patch, but hope he is continuing to fulfil his duties by assisting John McGahey and keeping him company.
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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is now no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.
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