Do you find meaning in having animals as pets for service, companionship, or a trusted friend, to aid in your personal or professional life? Do you find pets can provide additional assistance to people with disabilities, or other challenges (temporary or permanent)?
Being completely blind myself, you might think I would have a service animal to help guide me safely in my constant darkness. However, at this point in my life I do not use or need the assistance of a guide dog. Instead, I use my two white canes (one long white cane and one support cane) for orientation and mobility. I think guide animals for the blind and visually impaired, hearing animals to signal the hearing impaired or other service animals for other disabilities are very valuable and essential.
Now, having just said I do not use a guide dog, does not mean I have never had any animals in my life - past or present. I have always valued and enjoyed pets, and have been blessed and fortunate to have them in my life.
When I was growing up in our family we mostly had dogs as pets. Following my marriage to a wonderful person, Kathy, we now have cats as pets. After a very critical medical condition that almost took my life, and caused me to go completely blind we continued to have cats as a part of our family. I have found our pets companionship is of greater value now that I have no vision. Our pets do not care if I cannot see them with my physical eyes. They can sense me looking at them in my mind’s eye, as we share affection for each other. My pets also help to relieve stress when some days have additional challenges, or difficulties. Caring for my pets, along with my loving wife’s enormous amount of help, always puts life’s challenges into perspective and helps me re-focus on the joys and pleasures in life. In this case, that pleasure is my close companionship and affection for my cats.
Our first cat was named Buttons. Buttons was a striped grey, white, and tan tabby. She was a stray that showed up one day needing and wanting a home. After we asked around our neighborhood and found no owners, we accepted her into our family, and she became our new family member.
Quite a few years later we acquired another new family member from my sister-in-law. She was a long haired calico kitten we named Samantha. She was a very sick kitten that we nursed back to good health, which prevented her from dying, just prior to her first birthday celebration in August of 1995. In October of 1995, not long after her first birthday, Samantha was hit and killed by a car right outside our home on our street corner. We were devastated by her loss. We loved her so much and we felt so lost and empty without her. Buttons missed her too. Both of us were grateful for still having Buttons to love. She really helped ease our pain and sorrow with her love and affection for us.
In January of 1996, like a miracle from heaven, a new stray kitten showed up in our yard, it seemed, like out of nowhere. It was as if God and Samantha sent this adorable, sweet, loving, friendly kitten to us like an angel from heaven. I say this in part because this new kitten looked almost exactly like Samantha. This cat was also a long haired calico kitten just like Samantha. Even their breed was the same. Again, after checking out our neighborhood for lost stray kittens, we happily and immediately, without hesitation, added this kitten to our family. My wife named her Tammy.
A few years after we accepted Tammy into our family I suddenly became very ill. My wife brought me to the hospital where I lapsed into a coma the following day. I did not awaken from my coma until 3 long months later. Our loving and caring cats, Tammy and Buttons kept my wife company each lonely day and night, while I lay in a hospital bed for 7 months. Our cats could not help my wife by verbally communicating to her; however they did offer her plenty of companionship in my absence during those long days and nights, as she waited with uneasiness and fear to see if I would live or die. I am very grateful for our cats helping her through, what I can only imagine as being incredibly fearful and trying times, as she traveled back and forth to the hospital each day and took care of all other things around our home in my absence.
Our cat Buttons accepted Tammy into her life and taught her how to behave as a cat, like she was her mother. Besides Buttons and Tammy being great companions to me and my wife, they were excellent companions for each other.
When I did eventually get to come home I was happy to find my cats waiting for me. Since I was gone for 7 months, it took a little while for our cats to recognize me and come over to me in my newly acquired wheel chair.
Not long after getting home from the hospital, sadly, Buttons became ill and died. I was grateful to be home at the time and had the ability to crawl on the floor (I still could not walk at this time) over to her as she lay on the floor. I put my head down to her and listened to her purr slightly, and listened to her shallow breathing. With my head next to hers and my hand slightly petting her head and body, I told Buttons I loved her and said goodbye. She died quietly and peacefully on the way to our veterinarian’s office. Again we were filled with sadness and a great sense of loss.
Luckily we still had Tammy to help us through our grief. She also missed Buttons. We both knew this to be true because my wife said she would go around the house and the yard looking for her.
After a few years my wife Kathy and I decided Tammy needed a cat companion. My sister-in-law had a stray baby kitten that needed a home. We named her Morgan for the town she was born in. Morgan became part of our family in September 2001. She was about 12 weeks old when we got her. She is a calico striped tabby, medium hair cat. She was so small when Kathy brought her home; she fit in the palm of our hands. We carried her around in our robe pockets. She loved it! She is now a 15 pound princess!
After Tammy accepted Morgan, Tammy began to teach Morgan how to be a cat, since Morgan, like Tammy had no mother cat to teach her. I’ll have to admit Morgan did not learn as well as Tammy learned how to behave! She has a mind of her own and is very stubborn at times. But we love her a lot anyway!
One thing I found interesting is, I think, Tammy and Buttons knew I was blind and had no eyesight. The only reason I think they could have known this is because when we first got them I had eyesight. Tammy and Buttons were there when I came home from the hospital with no vision. I feel they sensed I had lost my vision. I do not use my canes to walk in our home. Tammy and Buttons would move out-of-the-way when I would walk towards them. Morgan does not move. When I walk in our home I do not raise my feet very high, as not to step on a cat accidentally. Morgan will actually come towards me when I come home or walk into a room. I feel this is her way of greeting me and to get me to pay attention to her. She rolls on the floor and lays down right in my path.
With regret and sorrow we are saddened to say Tammy recently died. She had been sick for about 2 years with a medical condition, although her condition seemed to be under control. One day without warning, she could not walk easily and could not completely raise her head. My wife Kathy brought her to the veterinarian to see what might be wrong. The doctor said she had a stroke, and because of her age would not live. She died naturally at the doctor’s office while Kathy was holding her. I did sense she was dying and was grateful to be able to hug her and say goodbye before she passed away.
Now, without Tammy, we have to go on without her. But thank goodness we still have Morgan, and also Knuckles, Rusty, Simba and Shadow (all cats that have adopted themselves into our family). We love them all.
With all the pleasures pets bring us, we also have the pain when they die and can no longer be with us. I feel pets have great value to all, including the disabled. Besides companionship and service, they can be of great value to help reduce stress and allow us to think clearer, allowing our full potential to shine and flourish in our personal and professional life.
One last comment in closing- Buttons, Samantha and Tammy are gone but not forgotten. They are all still with us at home. We have their ashes in their cedar boxes with their names and ours too. We love you Buttons, Samantha and Tammy forever!
I look forward to hearing your comments on how pets have made a difference in your life and why they are of value to you.
Global Dialogue Center