A photo of an assistance cat which was shared by an amused Aldi customer has inadvertently sparked heated debate on social media.
Aldi customers were divided over the image of the assistance animal, which showed the furry feline sitting in one of the German supermarket’s shopping trolleys.
“Here is something that is rare to see in an Aldi store,” the woman commented when sharing the photo on Facebook. “It is the first time I have ever seen an assistance cat anywhere in public.”
'Why is everyone complaining?'
While some social media users gushed about the cute feline, not everyone was impressed.
“So anyone can buy a harness for an animal and call it an assistance pet and take it anywhere. Ridiculous,” one angry woman commented. “Animals should not be in trolleys. Cats especially walk in cat litter!”
Others said they saw no issue in placing an animal like this in a trolley, considering they were generally filthy to begin with and that there would have been a risk of injury if the cat was allowed to walk around people’s feet freely instead.
“I don't know why everyone is complaining about the cat in the seat. I never use this part of the trolley, it is designed to put young children. Some who still wear nappies or a being toilet trained,” one person said, while another added, “You could recommend that he sits on a blanket like I used to bring for my daughter... I carry wipes and bags with me and always wash veggies.”
Some also raised concerns about their children sitting in the trolley after the cat. "I’m not against assistance animals at all but from a mum with a child with a severe allergy to cats and dogs I don’t think it should be in the trolley," one woman wrote.
Meanwhile, other members of the group lobbied for a bit more understanding from other shoppers who vehemently disapproved of the cat’s presence, saying it may have been there provide support for someone who has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Aldi did not comment on the matter when contacted by Yahoo News Australia, however, the supermarket chain’s store policy is guided by the legislation outlined In the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 which states a person must be able to produce evidence that the creature is an assistance animal and prove they are trained to meet standards of hygiene and behaviour that are appropriate for a public space.
While it is uncommon, Australians can expect more cats to join the ranks of assistance animals which at the moment are dominated by dogs.
The rise of assistance cats
While it is uncommon now, Australians can expect more cats to join the ranks of assistance animals which at the moment are dominated by dogs.
Think Mental Health Clinical Director Vanessa Hamilton, whose multidisciplinary team supports Commonwealth-funded Canberra Head to Health, told Yahoo News that while most common types of assistance animals are dogs and horses, they are now seeing an increase in cats.
“Animal assisted intervention (AAI) is a growth area that is showing promise as a complementary treatment for individuals who have experienced trauma,” Hamilton said. “The most prevalent outcome of AAI is a reduction in symptoms of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.
“There is strong anecdotal evidence to support animals as a unique additional element to address several symptoms of psychological distress,” she added.
“They not only reduce distress but can also facilitate social connection and reduce loneliness. Caring for and interactions with animals have also been shown to trigger the release of oxytocin (love hormone) which reduces emotional arousal and promotes a feeling of contentment in all of us.”
In NSW, a person with disability is entitled to be accompanied by an assistance animal in public places and public transport, unlike regular animals or pets.
“Some companion animals are trained to provide assistance to people with a disability to help alleviate the effect of that disability. These assistance animals are not pets,” the NSW Office of Local Government says on their website. “Entry cannot be refused without reasonable cause.”
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