A woman who sufferers from chronic fatigue has trained her cat to headbutt her when she is going into painful muscle spasms.
Wheelchair-bound Joanne Foster, who suffers from ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) says her cat has even let her know when her carers had left the oven on in her home.
‘Laid back and playful’ Maple is registered with an emotional support animal (ESA) agency and wears a special vest and a harness when she is out with Joanne.
Maple also sits on Joanne’s lap to soothe her when she sees she needs to calm down – but she is not legally recognised as a service animal in the same way guide dogs are.
Joanne, 32 who also suffers from depression and anxiety, said: “Maple can sense my spasms and she puts her head on my body or arm and headbutts me, to get me to be more alert.
“I suffer from depression and anxiety and when she sees I need to calm down, she sits on my lap and soothes me.
“Maple is smart for her age. I have had her since she was a kitten and she has learnt it mostly on her own.
“I just took it step by step. She has learnt how to warn me if I am feeling a little off and when my full bodied spasms are going to start.
“Once, while I was at home, she told me when my carers had left the oven on. She kept looking at me and then the kitchen door until I realised that was what she was trying to tell me.
“When I am out in my wheelchair, she sits on my lap with a harness and lead. Blackpool Victoria Hospital and my GP allow me to take Maple to certain appointments.”
Joanne has had Maple since she was two, has applied for her to be registered with American-based private registry service ESA UK.
The £50 per year registration covers a certificate, an identification badge and registration on the ESA list.
But while registration may help people take an emotional support animal shopping or travelling, UK law does not recognise ESAs in the same way as service animals, such as guide dogs, and access to any business is not covered.
Now Joanne, of Blackpool, Lancs., wants to change that as she says some places do not accommodate Maple.
And she also claims she has even suffered discrimination from people who think she is abusing the five-year-old cat by keeping her on a harness.
She added: “Some places are happy to accommodate Maple, whereas some don’t, even though as she is ESA registered.
“Sometimes, people are nasty and have stolen her things.
“Some people can’t accept it and think I am abusing her, keeping her on a harness, even though I show my disabled badge and letter.
“I would like the law to recognise ESAs and respect them like a working Guide Dog. It would make things easier for people like me and we would not get insulted and kicked out.
“I want people to understand more and I want other owners like me to have confidence to train their pet and go through the proper channels to get registered.”
Joanne, who has suffered a catalogue of health problems, anaemia, IBS and migraines, is currently training her younger cat, Phoenix, to be an emotional support animal.
She said: “Maple wears work clothes Monday to Friday so she can be seen when we are out. But weekends, she can run about freely with just her collar on.
“That’s the time she plays as a cat. I feel really confident knowing I have Maple by my side.
“I would be lost without her. I love both my cats and wouldn’t be able to do things without them.”