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He’s a Cool Cat

Ready for their Close-up: Lori Zanitsch, an elementary special education teacher who works in the Special School District of St. Louis County, Mo., is under doctor’s orders to have her service animal with her at all times while at this year’s NEA convention.

Service Animal Makes Debut at Representative Assembly
 

July 02, 2011
By Staci Maiers

When Lori Zanitsch’s doctors said she couldn’t attend any more RAs, she didn’t get mad—she grabbed her cat Cosmo.

Zanitsch is a 23-year classroom veteran and teaches elementary special education in the Special School District of St. Louis County, Mo. She’s also a Type-1 diabetic, meaning her body does not produce insulin.  During last year’s Representative Assembly, she became very ill when her blood sugar levels spiked.

 

 

Here Kitty, Kitty: Cosmo the Cat, a service animal, makes his debut at this year’s Representative Assembly in Chicago.

“My doctor told me that I couldn’t come to the RA unless [Cosmo] was with me,” said Zanitsch.  “He’s able to catch when my blood sugars are going high or going low. People give off different odors through their mouth. When your blood sugar goes higher, you have a sweeter smell.”

Cosmo, who was a rescue cat, clues in on those smells.

“If I’m sleeping, he’ll bite my finger tips or my elbows if something is not right,” explained Zanitsch. “If I’m awake, he’ll touch my leg or put his paw on me somehow if we’re sitting side by side.”

Service animals—also known as “assistance animals” or “support animals”—are categorized into three types, depending on their service. Guide and hearing animals provide services to the blind and hearing impaired, respectively, whereas service animals cover the gamut—working for persons with disabilities other than blindness or deafness.

 

Lori Zanitsch walks with Cosmo, her service animal, on the RA floor in Chicago.  Cosmo helps Zanitsch, who suffers from Type-1 diabetes, by monitoring any changes in her blood sugar levels.

“This is a fluke,” said Zanitsch, referring to how she realized Cosmo could be a service animal.  “It was my local EMTs and the ER people who finally figured it out” when she was rushed to the hospital after suffering dangerous blood sugar levels nearly four years ago.

Most organizations, like the Assistance Dog United Campaign, Paws To Freedom, Inc., and Guide Dogs for the Blind, offer opportunities for service dogs only—not cats.

“To find somebody to [train] a cat, it’s very difficult,” she added. “The cat has to be with you the entire time it’s being trained. It’s not like some other kinds of animal that go through a preliminary type of training to determine if they have the right kind of temperament.”

Cosmo does have a blog, but the newly-found fame and attention aren’t going to his head.  According to the Delta Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving human health through therapy and service animals, it’s actually harmful to touch, take pictures or offer food to a service animal.

“I know that when I go out in public, I’m an oddity,” said Zanitsch, who hopes Cosmo’s debut at the RA will have a positive effect on her fellow delegates. “It’s interesting to be able to bring in a service animal and to let people know that this is something beneficial.”

 

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