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Published October 29, 2019

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

Cats have no fear of wheelchair, nor of its occupant

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

I have learned to cope with wheelchair life.

I can drive with hand controls, use special devices to reach the top shelves, take off a wet bathing suit while sitting and even perform wheelies over bumps.

One thing I haven’t mastered, however, is coexisting in the same house with three cats.

When we moved into our current house after my spinal cord injury, we made every effort to make the house wheelchair accessible. We added a ramp and replaced carpeting with tile.

What didn’t occur to me, and what nobody warned me about, is that I would have to navigate around three four-legged balls of fur throughout the day. Sometimes, but not often, they even move.

I love our rescued cats, but for seven years I have lived in fear that I would accidentally run over a tail or an outstretched paw. I constantly need to remind myself to look before I roll. My wife is always alerting me to cats in the vicinity.

It finally happened the other day. My wheelchair clipped the tip of Sweetie’s tail. Fortunately, she wasn’t seriously injured, but my hearing may never be the same.

Other cat annoyances I can handle. I don’t mind them trying to catch the cursor on my computer while I am typing a column, or dragging stray socks around the house or even sleeping in my wheelchair when I’m not in it.

But I wish they had more fear of my wheelchair. Part of the problem is the natural desire of the cats to be petted. They settle dangerously close to my chair when they want to be petted.

Petting them, of course, only encourages them to keep doing it. Pushing them away doesn’t work either. They think I am trying to pet them.

And ignoring them doesn’t help. They just look up at me. They make me feel as guilty as I do watching one of those feed-the-world’s-children public service announcements.

Looking for help, I searched for advice on safely using wheelchairs around pets. You would think it would be a common problem for wheelchair users. I found nothing, not even on the Internet.

Sweetie is the worst of the three cats. She goes where I go. She also has the annoying habit of stretching out in the middle of the floor, effectively blocking me from going where I want to go. It’s as if she has set up her own toll booth: Pet me to go through. My wife laughs when I take a detour rather than force Sweetie to move.

Recently, Sweetie has taken to sprawling in the doorway to the study. In fact, as I type this column right now, she is napping at the doorway, blocking my exit. I have several escape plans.

In the past I have tried to fake her out by getting up a head of steam and making it appear I was going to run her over. She would stroll away. That worked for a while, but soon she just ignored me.

So I developed a new tactic. I trick her. When she blocks my path, I put my hand down at the side of the wheelchair as if I want to pet her.

She is such a sucker. She gets up and comes around to the side of the chair. I pet her for a moment, and then escape while she is no longer blocking my path.

This still works, but recently I have begun wondering if there weren’t methods to her madness. She’s blocking the doorway more often and getting petted more often as her reward for moving to the side of the chair.

It makes me wonder who the real sucker is.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com)