Anyone who lives with a cat knows they are much more than just pets. They are friends, companions, family — and they’re often there for us when life seems overwhelming and we feel all alone.
I have written before about the ways my cats help me manage seasonal depression. This winter, I certainly relied on their calming purrs and soft bellies (which also have tremendous foot-warming properties) to cheer me up while the Midwest experienced record-breaking lows courtesy of the Polar Vortex. Getting snowed in for days at a time would have been far more daunting without Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix to harass me for food, headbutt my face, and initiate cuddle puddles.
No one knows that cats can heal better than Iraq war veteran Lori Goodwin. She adopted a Maine Coon named Perseus, also known as Persy, in August 2011, and every day he changes her life for the better. (Follow them on Facebook here.) After doing Medevac coordination with the U.S. Army in Iraq from July 2007 to October 2008, Goodwin developed chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and panic attacks. Persy helps her manage her symptoms and has become her unofficial “service cat.”
“Persy makes sure I get out of bed even on bad days,” Goodwin says. “He has gotten me moving around when I thought I couldn’t before. It sounds tacky, but he has been the only reason I bothered to get up on really bad days.”
Persy may save Goodwin when she’s at her lowest, but Goodwin rescued Persy as well. He and his litter mates were found beneath a grill in Huntington Beach, California, and they all needed homes. The person who found the kittens was leaving for Army basic training and had given all of the kittens away except Persy, so Goodwin decided to take him home. She quickly discovered that Persy had a knack for reading her moods.
“He tends to know when to check on me and in the past has woken me up during panic attacks in my sleep,” Goodwin says. “My friends claim it’s because he knows only I can open the tuna, but I, of course, disagree.”
As a Maine Coon, Persy’s personality is somewhere between “a cat, a dog, and a person,” Goodwin says. That means he is an excellent companion and has an almost intuitive sense of Goodwin’s needs. He’s very aware of her pain, and he’ll often spend the entire day sitting by her side or sleeping on her legs. He even keeps an eye on her while she’s sleeping, when she is often prone to panic attacks. Recently, Persy nudged her awake to ensure that all was well.
“He woke me up gently to check on me,” she says. “When he was satisfied that I was fine, he laid on my legs and went to sleep. It was as if he knew to stay close, because every time it happened, he was right there waking me up so I could remember to breathe.”
Despite the many benefits Persy brings to Goodwin’s life, people are often surprised when she tells them she has a service cat, often to the point of disbelief. Cats have a reputation for being difficult and aloof, so they don’t have the same service-oriented reputation as dogs, who are notoriously eager to please. But Goodwin insists that what Persy lacks in training he makes up for in intuition — even if not everyone she tells is convinced.
“They usually just laugh,” she says. “It’s not common, and I don’t even know if cats can be service animals, I’m guessing because they’re harder to train, but they have intuitions too.”
Goodwin has had such a positive experience with Persy that she would recommend getting a service cat, official or unofficial, to others experiencing similar struggles. Goodwin feels that cats are easier to care for than dogs, so individuals who are not necessarily ready to take on the responsibility of a service dog could benefit from a cat. Even though Persy can be very talkative and playful, Goodwin says he knows his role and is eager to fill it.
“It’s definitely hard to be lonely with Persy around,” she says. “Persy is very much a part of this family, but he knows when it’s time to work.”
Lucky for Persy, work is a pleasant labor of love. In exchange for helping Goodwin navigate her worst days, he gets attention, affection, and a warm lap to sleep in — and he is as dedicated to Goodwin as she is to him.
“I’ve never had a more affectionate cat in my life,” Goodwin says. “I am the only one allowed to pick him up and hold him any way I want. He just lies there and chirps softly at me. He has even gone to sleep in my arms before.”
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About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.