By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 17 May 2014)
Cats often get a bad rap because they are not as obedient or eager to please as their canine counterparts, but there are many cats that have risked their lives to save people, acted as helping companions to disabled owners and other animals, and provided therapy to those in need.
Cats That Have Saved Lives
When 4-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo was attacked by a vicious dog, the family cat came to the rescue.
Cherry Woods was viciously attacked by two large dogs and might have been killed had her cat Lima not intervened. Alerted by Cherry’s screams, her husband came running out of their home to rescue her, but was unable to drive away the enormous pit bulls. Just then the couple’s normally timid cat leapt from the bushes and attacked the dogs, clawing and hissing. The dogs went after Lima, who led them away. Lima returned later, unharmed, and Cherry recovered from her injuries.
Sophie Thomas, 97, was working in her garden when she was attacked by four large dogs. As Thomas fought for her life, her cat Tiger leapt into the fray, leading the dogs away so that Thomas could escape into the house. As Sophie washed her wounds at the kitchen sink, Tiger returned home, unharmed.
When owner Gary Rosheisen fell from his wheelchair and lay alone and unable to move, his cat Tommy dialed 911 to summon assistance. Gary had trained Tommy to call 911 in an emergency, but hadn’t known if the cat would actually do it.
Lionel Adams credits the early detection of a cancerous tumour to his cat Tiger, who one day began dragging a paw down his owner’s left side over and over again. Concerned over the normally unaffectionate cat’s behaviour, Lionel went in for a check-up, which led to doctors removing a large tumour from his left lung. Had the tumour not been caught in time, Lionel might have died. Dogs have also detected cancer in humans.
Mona was deeply asleep when a blaze ripped through her apartment building. She might have succumbed to smoke inhalation, but her cat Beau threw himself against her closed bedroom door over and over again to make sure she woke up. Unable to remain in the smoke-filled apartment, Mona and Beau waited on the balcony for help to arrive.
Karen, her children and her dog Duke were saved when the loud, persistent meowing of their cat Shadow woke them to find the house filled with carbon monoxide. Without Shadow’s aggressive attempts to alert them, they would have all perished in their sleep.
Kimberley encountered a poisonous snake in her garden. As the snake was about to strike, her cat Sosa attacked it. Sosa suffered a bite on the paw, but recovered after three days in an animal hospital.
These are just a few of the countless stories of cats alerting their owners to danger or attacking other animals to protect their human companions.
Many cats voluntarily become helper companions to blind or deaf humans or other animals. Cashew, a blind and deaf Labrador Retriever belonging to Terry Burns of Pennsylvania, had a great friend in Libby, a tabby who led Cashew around obstacles, guided her to her food dish and slept with her each night. And Libby is not an isolated case.
In Australia, someone dumped a litter of kittens into a garbage can near Anne Jordan’s husband’s workplace. He brought the kittens home and the couple bottle-fed them until they were old enough to be adopted. Of the kittens, they kept only Mancat because no one chose him. The Jordans’ elderly Pug, Mary, was nearly blind due to injuries, and by the age of 14 had completely lost her vision. Mancat became Mary’s helper, guiding her around pieces of furniture, accompanying her to the garden and standing beside her during meals to ensure that the Jordans’ other dogs didn’t steal food from her bowl. The Jordans built small steps enabling Mary to climb up to their bed where she slept. Mancat helped Mary negotiate the steps every single night and then snuggled up beside her to sleep.
Mancat isn’t an isolated case. The videos below show other cats that act as seeing-eye cats for dogs.
Blindness is not the only disability with which cats can help. Anecdotal reports by cat owners indicate that many cats become “hearing cats” for deaf owners despite a lack of training. These cats let their owners know when a baby is crying in another room, a doorbell rings or a fire alarm goes off.
Oscar the cat, who lives at a Rhode Island nursing home, rose to fame for his ability to predict impending death and his desire to comfort the dying. When Oscar senses that a patient at the facility will die within hours, he snuggles up to the person and maintains a vigil until the individual passes away. Oscar’s predictions are so accurate that when he singles out a patient, staff contact the person’s relatives. Oscar provides comfort to family members of the dying and company for those who would otherwise die alone. He has been praised in many eulogies and death notices for his compassionate service.
Cats can also provide therapeutic benefits for people with plenty of years ahead of them. There is a growing body of evidence that animals have positive effects on people, particularly children and the elderly.
Dr. Bill Thomas developed the Eden Alternative in 1990 to improve the quality of life in nursing homes. A key element of the Eden Alternative is the use of therapy cats, dogs and birds, which live within the facilities. When the program was implemented for the first time in a New York nursing home, it resulted in a 50% reduction in infection rates and a 71% decline in drug costs (Peri, “Talking with Bill Thomas,” 2008). While this is just one example, it is not surprising. Overall, researchers have found that pet owners suffer fewer physical and psychological disorders.
A study of more than 10,000 pet owners in Australia, China and Germany found that people with pets visited their doctors 15-20% less often (Pet Health Council, “A Pet a Day Keeps the Doctor Away,” 2007). Another study found that the survival rate a year after hospitalization for serious heart problems was 28% among pet owners, compared to just 6% for those without pets (Nash, “Physical and Medical Health Benefits of Pets,” 2005). Pet owners tend to have lower blood pressure, which reduces their risk of heart attacks, strokes and other health problems. They are also less likely to suffer from depression and stress-induced health problems (Mayo Clinic, “The Health Benefits of Caring for a Pet,” 2004).
There are nonprofit organizations that arrange for volunteers and their pets to provide mental, physical, motivational and educational benefits at schools, hospitals, residences and nursing homes. If you are interested in volunteering with your pet, see the Animal-Assisted Therapy page for articles and resources.
For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.