Service Cats: Feline Fur Balls Save Lives

Did you know there are service cats that alert their owners about a pending seizure? Did you know cats help people who are experiencing depression?

These cats are sometimes regarded as “angel cats” and still others regard them as “service cats.” Service cats alert the person in the onset of a seizure.

Florida writer Theresa Campbell pointed that out in an article about Kathy McDonald and Dusty. McDonald lived with seizures since her teenage years. Dusty, a Persian breed of cat, alerts McDonald prior to her having a seizure.

Trained to walk on a leash, the cat wears a badge and accompanies McDonald everywhere.”

Dale the cat was the topic of an article in the Mainstream, an Arizona paper. Dale alerted his owner about her pending seizure. “He’d be fine around the house and then all the sudden he’d go crazy just tearing the place apart . . . With no training what so ever, Dale was alerting (his owner) of oncoming seizures. He did this for nine years.” Lil Bit took over as seizure alert cat after Dale died. Like Dale, Lil Bit had no formal training to be a seizure alert cat, both knew what to do.

Cats have the reputation to be extremely independent, self absorbed and to sleep a lot. I had two cats, Elvira and Simon for 12 years. They took on the role as helper cats when I sank into bouts of depression. The death of my mother devastated me. During my many days of sadness, Elvira and Simon sensed that and would not leave me alone. I don’t know how I’d had made it had it not been for my cats.

Simon and Elvira also helped me a lot during graduate school. I had little to no money at the time. Elvira demanded my attention when I was deep in thought. She had the ability to break through to me while I was in deep concentration with a class project or work assignment.

I was provided with a computer and magnification software from Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB). Even with screen magnification, reading continued to be extremely difficult for me. Elvira would often walk across my keyboard and mess up my work. This was perhaps her way to have told me to not take my tasks too seriously.

My cats kept my mind off of my hunger on days when I could not afford to buy food or there was no food for me in the house.

While in graduate school, I was asked to direct a nonprofit. My mother’s death, coupled with tension and anxiety and all of my responsibilities, overwhelmed me at times. My cats seem to know that. They would cuddle up to me, purr and fall asleep on my lap or chest. They would not leave me alone when I felt the worst. I’m not sure what I did for them, but they did much for me.

Simon took on the helper cat role after Elvira’s death. At age 12 he quickly befriended my new service dog Frisco. There was no hissing and growling between this old cat and young dog. Within two days of meeting each other, Simon and Frisco were best of buddies.

I was deeply saddened over Elvira’s death in 1992 and Simon’s death in 1996. They were more then pets. Elvira and Simon helped me to focus on the lighter and fun side of life.

Cats have a remarkable ability to know exactly when to spring into action and help.

Elvira, Simon, Dusty, Dale and Lil Bit made life better and safer for their owners. They filled an important nitch as cats that took care of their owners.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave your comments here, as we’d love to see if anyone else has had the fortune of service cat too!

Clarence can be reached at

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