William Shakespurr

He sits, staring at me with bright eyes and adoration. He rubs his head along my leg, sending shocks of pain that make it spasm to my brain. He curls against himself, pulling away. I look at him, trying to treasure the time that remains, knowing soon he will be somewhere else. Somewhen else. Still he will be my William. He lays his head down and I find myself crying again. This doesn’t help my body, to cry but it helps my soul. I close my eyes and I can see a golden light with hope for his future, and for mine imbedded into it.

He has lived with me for a year. He has endured for a year. This has not been a year full of joy for either of us but, the little moments still jump out. I met him in the Mall, where a city run shelter sits full of animals in glass houses. They all seemed so sad. William however responded, despite having just had surgery a half a hour before. He looked at me with his bright eyes, a greenish gold that has no real name but makes me think of Umbra, the other world and dreams. He made this little face that looked like a smile and shoved his pink nose at Sprite. She did not say a word, which was good as with every other cat she had cursed like a sailor, frightening the people that were trying to set us up with a new friend. She was not happy but, I knew he was the right cat.

He never yowled, meowed, or even hissed. He never complained or whimpered even for six months. It was my first month here, in my new home which I leave embedded in as much mystery as an open book truly can, when he first made sound. I remember, he and Sprite were playing, he more than she. She turned and licked his nose and he let out this squeaky meow. Like a rusted door, or a dying battery more than a meow. It resonated and frightened him. Sprite looked amused and smacked him with a paw, he meowed again, and then panicked running away from the spot. He meowed with every step and found he couldn’t escape the sound in his throat. This was the first moment I smiled after the abuse. For that I am always grateful to him, and always will be.

Still these little moments are nested in concerns and pain. It was apparent once a few days had passed that something was wrong with him. He couldn’t walk, instead he dragged himself with his claws in the carpet. He couldn’t jump but slithered up things usually falling. When he would go from room to room he would do it painfully, I could tell he was hurting, and often he bashed his head into walls He had fits, clawing at everything. Then the coughing started. Kennel Cough. Thankfully that is a treatable disease now, though I was unsure if it was. I spent the hours waiting to get him and Sprite to the vet and their medication, which could kill me, in a panicked daze. He was weighed that day, 17 pounds. I was glad he was an adult cat.

He was not an adult at all but a very large baby. I still say it sometimes, “Come here big baby.” He’ll climb into my lap, carefully as he can and lays there when I do. I like to roll him belly up, he makes a face with his eyes half closed, half crossed and his tongue hanging out. Sometimes he lets out a purr that is as squeaky as his meow. The vet said he had permanent brain damage and would, without serious care and guidance, never recover. They also told me he was at most three months old based on his tooth growth. I suspect their math was a bit off, maybe he was six months old, but likely just four or five.

I started to try to teach him things then. I had to teach him to eat, which consisted mostly of me shoving food in his mouth and triggering his swallow reflex. It took about a month for him to be able to eat on his own. Maybe being force fed so he didn’t starve made him dislike wet food but he rarely ever eats it now. That or he doesn’t want to have to get in Sprite’s way. She’ll smack him with her claws and send him running for cover.

He had to learn to walk. Instead of dragging himself I used the harness and some yarn to hold him up. Recreating a harness used in my physical therapy before they gave up on my ability to improve my balance. I never did, I just cannot balance the way others do. It took most of the last year for him to learn to walk. At first he couldn’t even retract his claws. He always had them out. It was like cuddling a switchblade. Still, he learned. He sometimes has trouble but he walks with his claws in.

Teaching him to jump was actually a lot of fun. The lazer pointer was a tool then. I used that to teach him to run too. He would scramble after it, in circles, to the left, then to the right, then the darned dot would move up the wall. After a week of staring at it mournfully, he stretched up, when that wasn’t enough he just stood there for the longest time. I remember the sigh he heaved, before walking away the first time. Still, after more time, he jumped. Now he even jumps on the bed. I’ll walk past, or go to lay down and there he is hopping up and down on my waterbed. Sometimes he will leap from the floor all the way to the top of the cabinets, OVER the refridgerator. You cannot tell he had to learn how.

He is not apparently smart as a cat, but, if you were locked in an apartment in 100+ degrees with only the water you could get from the toilet and the sink you would have brain damage too. He sometimes gets overwhelmed by light, sound, and motion. I do too. When he panics I have learned the best thing is to ignore him if I cannot touch him for fear of the claws. If I can touch him, I pull him close, pull a blanket over him and hold him until he is calm. Sometimes I wish someone had done that with me when i was younger but, I do not know if it would have worked.

He dislikes rock and roll but loves Show Tunes. If I  have to leave him alone, I find he makes less of a mess of the apartment if I can leave some music playing. So far he doesn’t like Evita but seems to adore cats. Still, Porgy and Bess is the one that he responds to the most. My William is a fighter, with a bit of an artist. I am not sure I could trust him with small children. Sometimes if I pet him he will bite and claw. The reaction does not fit the “crime”. I think with his size he could hurt someone. William is now somewhere over a year old and is about 27 pounds. He has doubled in size, and then almost a half more was added on. His paw when resting on my wrist hides it. When he then stretches his paw out my palm vanishes. I cannot have him in my lap as much now, and when I do I come away with bruises from his weight. This cannot go on.

He knows when the lights go out that you lay down and go quiet. He knows that but if the sun is up and I must rest or if he is being naughty, which is often, he will pounce and claw my feet. I already can barely walk, a tiny scratch puts me out of the running, and all I can do is lay there waiting for someone to come and help me balance. I live alone. This cannot go on. He needs somewhere he can be inside, free of dogs, children, and adults who are heavy handed. He needs somewhere that he gets a lot of play, is rarely alone, and is either the only cat or is with a cat that is able to fight back. He bites Sprite’s ears and her ears are pretty bad right now, because I cannot make him stop. He needs somewhere that there is quiet, love, and excitement. I no longer can do all he needs.

William cannot be an out door cat. He has been out a few times, and will sometimes steal a ride with me on the Scooter when I go out. He is fearless. When he escaped on his own he tried chasing cars. He caught one, but luckily it was parked. It sounds a bit humorous but, though he is a very large cat he is so much more fragile than most. His ribs never quite healed. Most of his body has been broken or damaged. He had a broken tail, which you can only feel if he lets you touch it, he had broken ribs, a fractured skull, and often he is in pain. I suspect this relates to his sometimes violent reactions to touch and care.

I think he wouldbe happier with another cat present but he is too afraid of dogs. He was willing to take on a dog that is as tall as I am when I am sitting, (three or four feet) just to keep the dog away from his people, just to protect himself and the only space he had left at the time. He needs to be somewhere that he will not be locked up a lot. No carriers except with the vet, no being penned in the bathroom for hours at a time at least once a week. Somewhere that he can roam  but be safe. Somewhere he can be held and give chase. Somewhere that William can be.

No longer does this home fit his needs. He has literally out grown me. He was considered a feral by the Vet, a vicious little cat that was broken. Now he is a loving cat that wants to please. He has the most darling smile, bright eyes, and when I cry all he does is lay with me trying to make the tears stop. He once tried licking them away but I said ouch, and he stopped. He understands enough of what is going on to be a very good cat for someone able enough to accomodate his needs.

William helped me too, it was not a one way journey. I know I can handle training an animal if I have the energy. I know I can still connect with an animal that seems to others to be lost. I still have my gift of being the friend of feral cats. I also know he is the last of the ferals that I can tame. He is the last of them I can show the world where we worship them. i will not miss his deciding to wake me up to kill my feet but I will miss his bright curiousity. I will miss his warmth when I was cold and had no way to stay warm except to cling to the two furry bodies at hand.

I will miss his discovery of things. Every day he rediscovers everything, and when you are so depressed that life is unbearable, that can still be enchanting. I still am fighting my depression but he has given me something that is precious. For a long time he and Sprite were my reason to live. I knew when I chose to keep him after his diagnoisis as a cat with a disability I was choosing something hard. I actually called the shelter and told them what was up and the only reason I kept William was their response angered me. It struck a nerve. I remember that conversation clearly, “Oh bring him back in, we’ll put him down and you can bring some other cat home.” His disability meant he had to die. It meant surely he was unlovable. The contract I signed upon adoption gave me thirty days to keep him or return him. If I kept him I was obligated, required, and bound to report any medical challenges, his death, or if he ran away. I was obligated to keep him. I was obligated by them. My disability is always going to be new to me, it feels new every day. That nanosecond before the world and pain crush me, before I am aware of my body when I wake, i am not aware of my disability. I just am. I face the shock of being physically broken daily. William recovered. I will not.

I kept him, because if I let them kill William, I was approving killing myself. I felt it in my soul. If I let them murder this cat because he needed more, was I not reenforcing the idea that disability is a death sentence? I know that I cannot keep him now. His increased ability has let me set him free. William has recovered so much ability, that most people will never see him as anything other than a very large cat. He no longer makes the carpet crackle when he walks, he has gone months without any fits, he meows, he plays. William has something special. William is forever a kitten. His body will grow up, grow old, but his mind will forever remain that of a kitten. H e will forever want to play and pounce. He will forever run after sunbeams. He will forever be young. In this way he is essentially immortal. Until the day that this cat dies, which could be decades from now, he will be innocent.

I have struggled with the decision of rehoming William for months. Never once did I decide it was time. It took serious injury for me to realize it is time. His weight dislocated three ribs, I had to go to the ER twice in one week. I am adapting to the changes in my body but I cannot hold him anymore. I am putting my health and my life at risk by trying. He no longer needs me. He wants me. He loves me. He leaves his mouse toy for me daily. I wake up with whichever mouse was handy when he decided to sleep on my pillow. When I started to fall ill a few weeks ago he started following me and trying his best to mimic Sprite’s awesome healing talents. Still, I dislocated ribs. I am covered in bruises and scratches from accidents. I am too fragile for this cat.

Wherever he goes, he will have a few things that go with him. There are toys that must go, his mousey that is so ratty that it looks like trash but if you throw it away he will find it and spread garbage over your entire home (yes, I will send you the most hideous cat toy in the world), his cat furniture which is collabsible and colorful, his crinkle tunnel, and his fluffy stuff on a stick. Those go with William. Sprite has her special toys which she hid from him, and of course those stay. If you take this cat  home with you, you recieve the greatest gift that any child or animal can give as well. Love. I cannot say it is love without comprimise, I can tell you that if you hurt him he will hurt you. I also can tell you that this cat has protected me from criminals. He is just as good as a guard dog, if the person scares him. You will get the little moments too. You may be working on a project, or watching the evening news and you glance at him and he is fast asleep sucking his paw. I dare you to tell me that such an adorable sight wouldn’t sway your heart a bit. You get a walking, purring, snuggling hallmark card.

I will miss William. I will miss even the bad times, the hard times, and yet I cannot cry more than a few tears when I imagine his future. I see him in a home with a large living room, his toys scattered about. Someone playing with him. I see him running, and yes this imaginary world is possible. After all, that is what love is. For him, love is play, mice toys, and playing fetch.

The Antidote for Discrimination Is…

I have felt the urge to blog repeatedly, but until now I have not given in. Blogging can be as personal as writing. I have spent the last week in preparation mode skimming the internet reading other blogs, seeing what I liked, what I didn’t like, and the power behind the words. Some of these bloggers brought me to tears, and that is no small feat. Others made me laugh, some caused me to feel sorrow, and a few gave me the chance to feel angry.

I wasn’t sure how to start my first post, but, since I am an advocate for all disabled, all women, all men, all people in need I will start there. The topic nearest and dearest to my heart is Service Animal Law. Some of you who read this might think you know about service animals, and you might be right. Others will presume that a service animal is only for a blind person. You are not correct. A service animal, by the federal definition, is any animal trained to assist a disabled person with a task. This does mean that if you have a seizure alert dog, it has to do more than that. The law even gives behavioral guidelines.

I have a service cat. She is trained to do things including retrieval, seeking assistance from specific humans in the case of an emergency, medication reminders, object retrieval, and she has also been trained to help me balance. A lot of these tactics came out of her instinctual responses, but those needed to be honed. She also had to be trained to handle a crowded mall. Now she handles it better than I do. People often ask me why a cat, and my response is simple. I am not allergic to cats, most of the time but I am allergic to dogs. I also trust cats, and I haven’t trusted many dogs in my life. I have to trust my service animal partner.

I have faced some serious discrimination because of being disabled. When I was still walking most of the time, it was harder because I was in extra agony since forcing myself to walk through a store took all of my energy. The more tired I am, the more pain I feel. There have been times when I have had shopping carts jerked out of my hands, causing me to either fall or nearly fall. I have been denied the right to buy groceries, and recently I have been illegally denied medical care.

I am perusing legal action but I am well aware that other people might not know how. Today, one of the blogs I read, reminded me that not every person is trained in how to handle discrimination. When you are disabled, you might feel more vulnerable to attack, and when people threaten to take away your service animal or refuse access, it can be terrifying. I feel often as if I am going to be hit if I push forward. I was an abuse victim for most of my life, but, adulthood came and I found a way to break free. Not everyone is that lucky.

So, here it is, my guide for other disabled people with any LEGAL service animal on how to advocate their rights. A side not before I begin, if you do not need a service animal, do not lie. We will catch you eventually, and the crime has a punishment. Depriving people of their rights through your shallow behavior is the worst thing you could possibly do, and, whether you believe in Karma, Hell, or just recriminations in this life from other people, you will pay for it. The law will get you, Advocates will get you, and if Karma gets you, it will be worse than anything I could dream up.

The Guide– Dedicated to Renne, Helen, Aimi and Snow, but especially Bree. (All Links will open in a new window/tab.)

Step 1. Stay Calm. This is for me the hardest part of advocating for your rights. Sometimes I want to run, other times I want to scream and cuss. Neither tactic is helpful. As hard as it is, you have to be the bigger person, and stay nice. You can have anger in your voice, do not deny the emotion but do not let the emotions over ride your goal.

Step 2. Calmly as you can, state that they are breaking the Federal Law. This is what I have practiced saying in the Mirror daily for the last two years. “You are violating the Federal Law. The Americans With Disabilities act provides protection for my use of my service animal.” When I say this I hand them a copy of the law. You can get a copy of the service animal laws from the ADA.  I  have the business brief printed with my state law on the reverse side. You can obtain access to your local service animal laws at http://www.animallaw.info/ I carry  my print out in aUSB case on my scooter keys. You can also buy laminated cards from various businesses with the law on it that explain your rights. For some people this is easier. Those cards are usually kept on your animal’s harness.

Step 3. Explain the law in simple terms and how they are violating it. This does mean you need to know the law. Not only does knowing the law protect you from discrimination, but, it lets you educate people. The biggest cause of discrimination in my experience is a lack of knowledge. If someone isn’t willing to learn, or admits they know, then you have a larger problem. One of the main causes of confusion with service animal awareness is that few businesses train their employees. It is illegal to require a service animal to wear a vest or show an ID tag. When someone asks me for this for my cat, I show them the law and educate them. Often, they will try and state she cannot enter because she is not a dog. My local laws state only dogs can be service animals. The laws are written so that the stronger law prevails. This means that if the Federal law says I can have any animal, that is trainable and meets the standards and the local law does not, we refer to the federal law. However if you live in a state like California that requires ID tags for all service animals, then, the law requires you have an ID tag. This is another source of confusion, but, it is an attempt at increasing the rights of many.

Usually by this point I am either in the building or they are just going to break the law anyway. If you have reached this point, it is time for Step 4.

Step 4. Take a very deep breath, and remember Step 1. Then ask to speak to their supervisor. If they refuse or are the supervisor you can try explaining the laws again, or calling another advocate to try and help. I keep the number handy to the local advocacy organization, and they have helped me countless times. Even knowing I can call day or night, is helpful because I do not feel alone. At this time I have no national links, but if you are in New Mexico, contact Service Animals and the Law. (Link forthcoming). If you have links nationally to websites that can help, post them in a comment. I want this page to be a resource for any person in need.

At this point you should be through the trying time, most managerial staff listen well and correct their employees. Recently I had to fight my way into an apartment complex using this tactic for three months. Even when I had food poisoning I had to try and follow my rules, but, eventually I prevailed. Advocating for yourself is the hardest part of having a service animal.

Not every person responds to this and if you still cannot get through to them, you need to contact the ADA. You can email them a detailed complaint, include names, addresses, contact information for both parties, and send it to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov . If you would rather call you can contact the ADA via their hotline using these numbers: 800-514-0301 (TTY-800-0363).

Remember, you are strong, you are beautiful inside and out, and you are not alone.

Other posts in this series: What is a Service Animal?

Additional Resources will be added as I find them:

Information:
http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/
http://www.deltasociety.org
http://www.ada.gov/svcanimb.htm
http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm
http://www.equipforequality.org/resourcecenter/ada_serviceanimals.pdf

http://www.animallaw.info/
Service Dog Vests and Supplies:
http://www.pettop.com/
http://www.raspberryfield.com/
http://www.activedogs.com/servicetherapyvestharness.html?gclid=CI-6iKm7rpgCFQEpGgod3QL9Ug
http://www.ldsleather.com/patches.html
http://www.petjoyonline.com/ADA_Federal_Law_Information_Card_for_Service_Dog_p/svd-0054.htm The Law Info Cards
Scholarships
http://www.assistancedogunitedcampaign.org/scholarship.html
http://www.keystonehumanservices.org/ssd/ssd.php
Blogs:
http://www.servicedogblog.com/

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