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The Service Cat - by Mike Baird

the service cat

Misunderstood pet: Though one veteran was prescribed a service cat for PTSD, he has been initially denied access to numerous public places.
By Mike Baird
Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Thursday, November 06, 2008

Corpus Christi, Texas —- A Vietnam veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder received an unconventional prescription in July.

“ John McGahey needs a service pet,” his physician wrote. “He plans on using a cat. This pet is allowed to travel with Mr. McGahey anywhere.”

The last part of the prescription has been the toughest to fill. The 53-year-old former medical corpsman has been denied access to some public places with Patch, his 6-month-old white male service cat.

“ It’s not like I’m trying to take an alligator with me,” McGahey said. “I just want people to know service animals can be other than dogs.”

McGahey was first diagnosed in the late 1970s after treatment in Philadelphia Naval Hospital. “I have a lot of flashbacks,” he said. “I get paranoid in public, and petting Patch helps keep me calm. When I’m ripping the bed apart at night he licks me.”

Stress disorder such as McGahey’s develops in some people after an event that caused or threatened serious harm or death, according to the National Institute on Mental Health.
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual.” It 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.

In Corpus Christi, where he is known as “Big John,” McGahey lives downtown in federally subsidized housing for the elderly and disabled. The Sea Gulf Villa Apartments had him fill out paperwork and photographed Patch to allow him to keep the cat without charging a pet deposit.

McGahey also melted the myth that service animals are dogs-only at retailer H-E-B, where he shops for groceries. The staff contacted store managers to arrange for him to carry Patch in a pouch.
McGahey and his feline also regularly ride Regional Transportation Authority buses, but only after he asked permission, which prompted RTA administrators to look up the Department of Transportation’s stance on service animals for people with disabilities.

The first time McGahey toted Patch with him into the Veterans Administration medical clinic, he also encountered resistance. But after he presented a copy of the ADA definition of service animals and his doctor’s prescription, he was permitted to keep Patch with him.

He still hasn’t been permitted to take Patch into local restaurants.

“Sometimes bureaucracy gets in the way of common sense,” said Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal, who defended McGahey’s right to courthouse access with Patch. “As long as [McGahey] meets the criteria for ADA, he can carry his cat.”

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