Yes! There is a special day set aside to celebrate these heroic creatures. May 3 is proclaimed National Disabled Pets Day. Indeed, these heroes fill our shelters. To put the need for special people to adopt special needs animals in perspective here is an interesting statistic. Animals with disabilities are the third hardest animals to place behind senior animals and bully breeds of dogs. It is so sad that these incredibly adaptable and loving animals are overlooked when people seek to adopt.
As a veterinary technician my passion as a rescuer of special needs animals is very close to my heart. This is not a venture for the faint of heart, but can be so rewarding. Adopting a pet with special needs may seem like an emotional or physical burden, but people who do it find it comes with special rewards. Animals with disabilities can often act as inspiration to humans and as a result are used as therapy animals. You see special needs animals have so much love to give and often times, with proper medical care, can lead long and productive lives. Some special needs animals have no condition that requires medical care, but they may just look a little less than perfect. I, for example, have dogs that are blind or have an eye that had to be removed. I choose to think that our “one eyed” dog while imperfect has more character. Our blind Maltese navigates her surroundings quite well, as long as major changes are not made to her normal route around our house. Neither of these dogs requires ongoing medical care because of their eye conditions, but they do require more vigilant monitoring and a few accommodations to compensate for their loss of sight. Many animals are relinquished to shelters due to medical or behavioral issues that the owner is unable to deal with financially or emotionally. These animals are most often overlooked in the Shelter and are doomed to a sentence of euthanasia.
Disabilities can range from the physical such as a missing limb, paralysis, deformities and missing eyes. Other disabilities might be deafness, blindness, metabolic diseases that can be controlled with medications, and then there are the behavioral conditions, which can sometimes require more patience and work with a behaviorist. There are also short term disabilities that may require a surgical procedure or short term treatment versus long term or lifelong treatment.
When considering the adoption of a special needs animals the unknown can be scary. It requires special considerations and of course commitment. It is important that you develop a strong relationship with a veterinarian. Your veterinarian can be invaluable in giving you insight to long term costs and treatment options for the disability.
Considerations to think about when considering the adoption of a disabled animal are many. Do you have the financial means to undertake the treatment and care of such an animal? Will your lifestyle and work schedule accommodate the care of a disabled animal? What are your expectations and are they realistic? Do you have other animals in the home and will there be a good fit with existing pets. Also, and most importantly, are all family members on board with the decision and commitment?
So, let’s look at a few disabilities that might be encountered on your visit to the shelter.
• Limb amputations. The animal with a limb amputation does extremely well and will often act like a completely normal dog or cat. They compensate extremely well and are a joy to own. The most important consideration is to maintain a good weight so they do not develop joint issues and arthritis. Sometimes limb amputations may require prosthetics. Perfect opportunity to inspire humans who require similar prosthetics.
• Deafness. Sometimes seen in shelter cats and dogs and mistaken for an animal that is misbehaving or unresponsive when in actuality it does not hear. These animals can easily be taught sign language.
• Blindness. These animals will require much interaction and stimulation. They will need a safe environment without change and placement of household furnishings. These animals should never be left unattended outdoors.
• Diabetic animals. These animals will need frequent vet visits to make sure their disease is under control. Diabetic animals will often time need injections at designated times during the day. It is important that the owners schedule will accommodate these injections and the owner will need to learn how to give injections under the skin.
• Heartworm positive dogs. We live in the south and our shelters are loaded with dogs that have heartworms. Treatment can be expensive and this is why they are often overlooked as adoptable dogs. Treatment will mean strict confinement (several months) and visits to the vet to make sure treatment was successful.
• Skin diseases and allergies. These are tricky and may involve short term care with antibiotics and medication or they may require lifelong medications.
• Spinal injuries. We’ve all seen the dogs on wheels. Wonderful strides have been made to accommodate for mobility in animals with spinal injuries. Careful monitoring of legs is important because they can develop sores due to lack of feeling in the affected appendages.
• Feline Leukemia and Feline Immunodeficient (Aids). This is tricky. These cats can live long productive lives, but will inevitably succumb to their disease. Once they begin showing signs of the disease (symptomatic) palliative care can become costly. These cats must be kept indoors to prevent spread of disease to other cats. Surprisingly there are people who adopt only cats with these diseases and maintain an indoor closed colony.
• The senior dog or cat. We can’t leave this one out. While not disabled in the true sense of the word they are slowing down but have much love to give. Older animals do develop “old age” problems such as cancer, incontinence, cognitive issues, arthritis and some diseases that occur in the aging animal. On the bright side, they are settled, their personalities are evident and they have so much love yet to give.
Animals deserve to live out their lives in comfort and care. They should not be considered disposable just because they develop health problems or look less than perfect. Humans developed these animals to be our companions, and I think it is important to provide for their comfort and care even in times of ill health. I hope you will consider a special needs animal in your life and no matter how long or short the journey be assured that you brought a little love into the life of an animal.
Sylvia MacFarlane, RVT is a Credentialed Veterinary Technician and the 2018 President of the Newberry County Humane Society, and can be reached at 803-924-2378