Everyone seems to take great pleasure in watching animals react to and mimic a human world, and the way in which they react to disabilities is no less charming. It never ceases to surprise me how unafraid many animals are of the large metal frame full of gliding human, and some of the best reactions have been courtesy of cats and dogs.
In my first year of university, on a warm day towards the end of April, I decided to go to the local park as a short break from my exam revision. Naturally the park was full of dogs of all kinds, but there was one Labrador puppy taken straight from an Andrex advert that stole my heart. He was very interested in what, the owner told me, was his first ever encounter with a wheelchair, so I stopped to let him explore the novelty. The excitement must have been overwhelming, because after approximately a minute or so of examining my wheels, he promptly cocked his leg against the back wheel. I have never seen the colour drain from someone’s face as rapidly as the owner’s face did that day; they were mortified. I, however, thought it was hilarious, and was laughing so hard that my diaphragm ached from the effort. The poor puppy looked so self-satisfied that every time I stopped laughing, I had only to look at his face again to be set into another fit of hysterics. I assured the owner that it wasn’t a problem, and had actually made my day, and we continued our separate ways, with my back wheel leaving a faint trail along the dry path.
About 18 months later, I was returning home after a visit to the pharmacy to find the path obstructed by a huge dog that looked like a cross between a Saint Bernard and a husky. I bent down to fuss the dog, who was tethered to a post while the owner collected his own prescriptions, in an attempt to gently move the dog from my path. What I hadn’t realised was that this dog was still a puppy, and in her excited she jumped up, placing her front paws on my lap, and putting most of her weight on my hips. Within a second of this happening the owner came rushing out of the pharmacy yelling;
“Zara, not the disabled person, oh god not the disabled person, down Zara, down!”
I, of course, was thoroughly amused, and after reassuring the owner that I was perfectly alright and that Zara hadn’t hurt me, we managed to move her from my path and I continued home.
On the way home from the pharmacy, I travel down a quiet road set on a hill, which is guarded by a cat called Dom. Dom is a black and white short-haired moggy, who spends most of his time sitting in people’s gardens, and chasing birds. Strangely, he seems to be attracted to the sound of the motors on my powered wheelchair, and whenever I travel down this road, I am soon accompanied by Dom, who trots down the pavement on my right side in a scene that makes even the toughest Bradfordians melt.
I often marvel at the ability of animals to overlook disabilities and see the organism underneath, something which some human beings often struggle with. They don’t appear to view the wheelchair as something to be afraid of, and actually seem to like it, which flies in the face of expectation. Perhaps taking a more animalistic view of the world would allow us to appreciate the really important things; food, shelter, and good company.