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Furry Friday: Adopting “Other-Abled” Pets

PetFinder.com sponsors Adopt-A-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week September 17-25. The event is devoted to giving those pets who are often overlooked at shelters and rescue groups for whatever reason — they’re old, the wrong breed, have special needs, or are simply different or the wrong color — a better chance at finding homes.

Y’all know how I feel about golden oldie pets, after writing two award-winning books that help folks care with the needs of aging cats as well as aging dogs. Senior citizen pets have just as much love to give and often fit very well into families unable or unwilling to manage the hijinks of in-your-face puppies and kittens.

old dog

Old dogs make great friends.

Adult cats and dogs grown out of the “cute” phase also can have a hard time being chosen. But remember that healthy cats and small dogs can live well into their mid to late teens or longer, and you can expect to enjoy at least another half dozen years by adopting a four year old pet. And usually you save costs because they’ve already been “fixed” and have their shots, as well as basic training.

“Other-abled” pets don’t know what they’re missing. Despite loss of limbs, mobility, sight or hearing, they live and enjoy life regardless of the challenges they face. Often, the pet has less difficulty coming to terms with such changes than do owners. Cats and dogs seem to willingly accept conditions that devastate people.

My friend and colleague Natalie C. Markey shares her life with Oscar. His epilepsy inspired her to write a book about Caring For Your Special Needs Dog. Would she have adopted Oscar knowing that he had health challenges? Absolutely! You can hear from her directly in this Pet Peeves radio interview.

Pets can suffer paralysis through accidents, degenerative back diseases or other health conditions. Nobody knows what happened to Willy the rescue Chihuahua, who lived with rear-limb paralysis. He wouldn’t stop dragging himself from place to place, determined to stay in the thick of things. Once owner Deborah Turner got him strapped into his K9-cart (wheelchair for dogs), he was literally off and running. Willy became the mascot for his local branch of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, has his own website, and two children’s books written about his exploits.

Dr. Paul Gerding, a veterinary ophthalmologist, never considered that his Labrador couldn’t still enjoy life when Katie began losing her sight. He wasn’t able to correct the progressive disease medically, but took steps to ensure the blind dog could still navigate her home and yard by memory. She continued to hunt—in safe clover fields with no ditches or holes—and at home Katie relied on the younger dog Grace to be her personal guide dog pal. Similar stories are found in my cutting edge book.

I recently heard from my colleague, Lynette George, about her latest addition to their own little doggie family. “Her name is CeeCee and she’s a miniature, long-hair, double-dapple dachshund.” She went from the breeder to three different owners, and then ultimately was surrendered at the Oklahoma Spay Network because nobody really wanted to handle a blind dog. “Four months old and thinks she owns the world. She has absolutely no clue that she’s supposed to be “handicapped.” Anyway, she’s absolutely adorable. Everybody who sees her falls in love immediately. She took over Petco when she went in – kind of like she does everywhere she goes. She’s just a hoot every day. We LOVE her!”

Pets inspire us with their stoic attitudes. They don’t know how to feel sorry for themselves, and may not recognize they’re any “different” than other cats and dogs. Fluffy and Prince simply want to get on with the important business of eating, playing, and loving their family. As readers know, furry love comes in all shapes, sizes, and packages.

Do you share your home with a “less adoptable” pet? How did you find each other? Has living with an “other-abled” pet affected your life in positive ways? Please share! I’d love to hear your stories and see pictures of your special fur-kids. And here’s the deal. I’d love to create a whole gallery post next week so you can either post comments or email me amy @ shojai.com with “special pets” in the subject line with a picture. SEND NO LATER THAN NEXT TUESDAY (Sept 20) so I can post the next day. Spread the word–we’ll make your pets famous!

Just for fun, I wanted to share the latest Ask Amy video with a question from Tiffany. This applies to dogs as well as cats. What are some other puzzling behaviors your pets perform?

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

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About amyshojai

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified animal behavior consultant, award winning author, and spokesperson to the pet industry.

13 responses »

  1. What a great post Amy! Our older animals deserve all the love and attention in the world as much as our puppies do!!
    I am not sure if you saw on my blog that my dog’s been getting older. She turned 10 this year and just before her birthday, she ruptured the ligament in her knee. She had to have surgery and hubby and I have invested well over 150 hours of physio into her recovery.
    http://nataliehartford.com/2011/08/09/the-things-we%e2%80%99ll-do-for-our-furry-children/
    I’ve been meaning to write an update post on how AMAZING Tess is doing. She’s recovering wonderfuly and at her 9-week check up, the vet said she’s walking amazing and is doing exceptionally well – all swelling is gone – and we can move towards gradual return to all activities.
    The 3 months has been hard but the most wonderful thing has also come out of it. Hubby and I both feel more bonded and connect to Tess. We’ve spent more time with her, touching her, working with her, healing her, and loving her…it’s just filled us with joy! And to see her come through this with such an amazing spirit, unconditional love, and happiness – just amazing.
    I know that this means her arthritis is going to kick into overdrive sooner rather than later. And I know we’ve already got some hip issues. But I don’t care. She’s my baby and I’ll be with her to support her and work with her as she ages….because that’s what I committed to! Because I love her. Because I am here for her for the long haul no matter how hard or easy it is. If she were human, she’d do no less for me!

    Reply
    • Wow, great post at the link. And what a gorgeous doggy! I’ve heard this before from pet folks, that they feel even closer to their pets after caring for them in some beyond-the-basics way.

      Reply
  2. We’ve had our run of “special” pets. My first dog had epilepsy all her life, had to be on medication and even then sometimes had seizures and had to be comforted. But she was something special, still the best dog I’ve ever known.

    Well… let me copy you a piece I wrote on her and saved so I didn’t have to keep retyping. LOL She deserves her own comment so I’ll post the others in a second one later.

    Jodi is the dog I grew up with. She was 6 months younger than me, so we had her as long as I can remember. Half beagle, half who-knows-what, she was the pick of her litter and the best dog a family could ask for. http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v473/slupine/Pets/jodi2.jpg http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v473/slupine/Pets/jodi1.jpg

    She was pretty much raised as my little sister. No kidding. I mean, she was an outside dog, but she came in plenty, and anytime the weather got too nasty. When she was a pup my parents found out she had heartworm, when the vet told them how risky the treatment was, they were devastated. In tears, the whole bit. Vet thought they had no children. No, they had two. Apparently that vet had never seen anybody with kids that got that emotional over their pet. But they had brought that dog in as family, and they loved her like family. She was another one of the kids. One with four legs who liked eating tissues, but one of the kids nonetheless.

    Now, when I was very young, I was diagnosed with epilepsy. Turned out we had arsenic in our water, which the testing company had told us was safe. I had been exposed to that water before I was born, and drank more water for my body size than my parents or sister, so I was the only one in the house affected. Well, we ended up finding out that Jodi had epilepsy too – whether from the water, the heartworm treatment, or just a predisposition of the breed, since there are a few breeds prone to it, we don’t know. But, well, both of us ended up on medication. In her case, the vet said it would make her have a better quality of life, but it would shorten it. She wouldn’t live to see 10.

    The dog and I grew older, and we had a pretty solid bond. Partly, I think, because I knew she had the same disease I had (though I grew out of mine at age 6 – thankfully that happens sometimes when you get it young, but there were permanent effects of whatever happened in my brain back then… I have some disorders I have to work through now, one I suspect I have that wasn’t known when I was growing up, that I have yet to find somebody qualified to confirm a diagnosis… but this isn’t about me). But part of the bond was just because there was no way NOT to love that dog.

    She is, by far, the smartest dog I have ever known. It took us a while to figure out, of course, being stupid humans. 😉 Every time I say that, I tend to get somebody going “yeah, what, she does tricks? all dogs can do that.” Oh no. She didn’t much care for tricks and would usually feign deafness if you even tried. LOL Her smarts were a bit more practical than that.

    The first sign was when dad kept finding straw all over her food. He kept taking it out, every day, but every time he came back, there would be the straw all over it again. He could never figure out why she was making such a mess until one day he saw some birds stealing out of her bowl. She ran them off, went to her house, grabbed a big mouthful of straw and dropped it on top of the food to hide it from the birds. Score one for the dog.

    Similar thing happened during the winter. Jodi’s two favorite toys were her squeaky hamburger (which got replaced many times due to a wayward lawn mower) and her tennis ball. When winter came, dad kept finding the tennis ball in her water bowl. Again, couldn’t figure out why. Then he watched out the bedroom window one day, tennis ball in the water bowl that was now frozen over. She walked over to the bowl, pulled out the ball, took a drink of the unfrozen water beneath the surface of the ice, and put the ball back in. Nobody taught her this – she learned it all on her own.

    Now, after living with us for a while, she learned that my mother was afraid of snakes. So, whenever my mom was out in the yard, if she saw a snake, she killed it. But ONLY if my mom was in the yard. The rest of us weren’t scared of snakes, so she’d leave them alone when it was just us.

    Things got more interesting when we moved into the house where my parents now live, out in the country. This was her first yard with no fence, so Jodi was quickly taught not to go in the road. She may not do tricks, but she knew what rules were absolutely necessary to obey and that was one of them. Well… my grandmother’s house is just down the road. And we sometimes took her for car rides there. There is a creek that runs beside my parents’ house and my grandparents’. Jodi, either by smell or by sheer logic, realized this was the same creek at both houses. She was not allowed in the road. She wanted to go to Gram’s house. Dog put 2 and 2 together, followed the creek up there for a visit.

    It got to the point where my parents had to start punishing her somehow, but this wasn’t a dog you could use standard punishments on. Brainy little pain in the butt she was. They decided they couldn’t just haul her home in the car, because she LOVED car rides. They didn’t want to reward her for running off without permission, so what they ended up doing was making her walk home in the grass, driving along slowly beside her to make sure she kept going.

    But she found a way around this too. One day when my parents were making her walk home, she took a tumble into the ditch, and came out limping. Of course, my parents weren’t going to make her walk home after she’d hurt herself, so they stopped and put her in the car, figuring they’d check her over once they got back to the house. So they pull into the driveway, open the car door, and out she leaps, happy as can be, running across the yard until suddenly she froze. Oh crap. That’s right. She was supposed to be hurt. And tried to very quickly cover up her mistake and go back to limping. Unfortunately she was already busted. LOL But she’s the only dog I’ve ever known to fake an injury just to get a car ride.

    Brains weren’t the only thing she had going for her. She might just be the only guard beagle in the world. Absolutely protective of the family. At the old house she once went after the guy from the electric company, because when he came to check the utility box my mom went out to meet him. Well, he was rather animated when he was talking. Had a large tool in his hand, and was shaking it around quite a bit as he spoke. And I guess he had one of those gruff voices that easily sounds like yelling. So Jodi bit him. Thankfully the guy didn’t press charges – he admitted he probably looked pretty threatening, didn’t blame the dog for trying to protect her family. She was just trying to be a good dog and keept he strange man from hurting mom. I think he was the only one she ever got around to biting, but she growled at a fair few others. lol Poor UPS guy got barked at and scared off – she wasn’t growling at him, just barking, which she always did to let us know there was a stranger or visitor around, but, well, you know mailmen and dogs, so he was a bit skittish of her from then on. When we first moved into the new house, the neighbor came over to meet us, and she growled at him. He started to laugh and say no beagle he’d ever known would ever bite anybody. “Ohhh this one will!” He decided he’d let the introductions be made before he tried to pet her. LOL

    She always, ALWAYS barked when somebody else’s car pulled in. But never at mom or dad. Even if they were driving a different car, borrowing someone else’s or whatever… if they were in it, somehow she knew and didn’t bark.

    I remember one winter we had this massive snow… school was out I think for a whole week, it was such a mess. Dad had to dig tunnels out to her pen. But she thought it was the greatest thing in the world. She wandered along the path dad made at first… but then she decided to go have some fun, and disappeared in the snow. All we would see was this beagle head rise up as she jumped as high as she could, then plopped back down into it. She ran around like that for a while, having a blast, putting these little dog-shaped holes all over the snow. lol I can’t remember if my parents ever got video… I really hope they did.

    Something else I loved so deeply about her… she cared about other animals. One day after dad had run the lawn mower and let her out of the pen to run, I saw her come back from the creek with something in her mouth. As she got closer, I realized it was a turtle, figured she had just picked it up to play with it, so told her to drop it, because it was not a toy. Mind you, “drop it” was one of the few commands she NEVER disobeyed, because if we said it, we meant business. But she refused to drop the turtle. I kept telling her over and over to drop it, but she refused, until she got right up to my feet, set it gently on the ground, then stared up at me, waiting. There was just something insistent about the way she was staring. I reached down to pick up the turtle, get a better look, then saw that it had a chip out of its shell, and was bleeding. As soon as I picked the turtle up, she seemed satisfied and wandered off again. She knew if she brought it to one of us, we could help it. And we did, in fact, have some vet-grade styptic powder around the house for all manner of critter boo-boos. So, turtle got patched up and released back out into the yard.

    We cannot forget that the vets said she wouldn’t live to see 10. So, around the time we both turned 10, I started spending hours out with her alone, telling her I loved her, telling her when it was time to go, not to worry because we’d be okay. I promised her, every night, that when the time came I would say goodbye.

    And she lived on.

    She started slowing down after a while, we were worried it was getting close to time to say goodbye. This was when we were around 12 years old. But then came Freckles. Freckles was found as a stray outside my middle school and, well… to put it bluntly, he was an idiot. Nobody else would take him, they couldn’t find an owner, and we didn’t want him to go to the pound, so we took him in. He was lazy, he was stupid, he barked constantly and wouldn’t shut up… but he was very sweet. By this point Jodi was starting to show signs of arthritis, and was starting to get some lumps on her body from the tumors her medications were causing. By that time she was on prednisone as well as her seizure meds. But when that puppy joined the family, she sprang back to life. http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v473/slupine/Pets/jodifreckles1.jpg Normally you think of the puppy chasing around the older dog. Nope. Jodi chased Freckles until he couldn’t take it anymore. And when he tried to lay down to get some rest, she bit him in the but and kept going. She thought he was the greatest thing ever. Suddenly it was like she was a young pup again herself. She tried, of course, to teach him the things she had learned. But he had the attention span of a gnat and his head was full of rocks instead of brains, so alas he learned none of it except how to bark at cars. She never managed to teach him to stop.

    But as we all know, all good things must come to an end. Eventually she started to slow down again. One day I came home from school, and my parents told me they had taken her in. Her arthritis had gotten so bad she couldn’t walk anymore without pain, and they couldn’t justify letting her go on like that. They hadn’t told my sister and I beforehand in the hopes of sparing us, but I was more devastated that they hadn’t told me. I had promised her… promised her every day I would say goodbye, and then I wasn’t given the chance.

    I’m told when they gave her the shot, she fought it the whole way down. Mom thinks it’s because she wasn’t done protecting us… was hoping she could teach Freckles how to before she went.

    I think she was waiting for me to come say goodbye.

    The vet said she wouldn’t make it to 10. She would have been 17 that spring…

    I still miss her. Nearly 10 years later and I still miss her…

    Some things never go away.

    Reply
    • Wow…what a wonderful, loving tribute. Thanks so much for sharing. And I agree with you…some things never go away, like love.

      Reply
      • And now, of course, for the rest of them. As I said, we seem to get all the “special” critters. LOL Whether mentally or physically.

        There was mom’s old cat Shoebee (so named because he would come up and sit on your shoes to be petted when he was a baby) who was born without a breastbone… and liked to swim in the bathtub as my sister found out once by surprise. No pics of him, sadly.

        Then there’s the recently departed Timbit who we found on the side of the road, who never really fully developed – kept part of the blue of her kitten eyes, never really grew at all, was always a bit sick: http://www.flickr.com/photos/karylmc/5540155641/

        Then there’s my Simba who has been mostly blind in one eye after an injury of unknown origin when she was still living outdoors: http://www.flickr.com/photos/karylmc/5376977430/ We thought she was going to lose that eye, she never did. She now appear to be going blind in both eyes in her old age.

        George I have no photos of right now. She’s Timmy’s sister, who is still alive and… odd. Seems to have some neural problems, as well as deformed legs, so she wobbles and flops around a bit. Still hunts, though, but my parents have to watch her because she once fell out of a tree and broke her hips.

        Also knew one at the shelter who was a real sweetie… a purebred Norwegian Forest Cat that didn’t get adopted for AGES just because she had one eye removed.

        Reply
        • Karyl, You’ve certainly had your share of special fur-kids. Thanks so much for sharing–you always post terrific comments and now pictures. *s* Woofs & purrs from mine to yours…

          Reply
  3. Amy, I am co-founder of a small rescue organization in Tennessee, the only rescue in our area that focuses primarly on adult and “special needs” dogs. Your post was serendipitous for me today, as I read it literally 5 minutes after receiving an email from a local citizen criticizing our rescue. She wrote, “I really dont understand the point of saving animals that have broken legs from being run over, or other really bad injuries, and spending hundreds or thousands of dollars for vet bills doing that, when it’s $40 to end their misery and put them to sleep.”

    The public, and even some rescuers, often express that opinion to us; it’s their attempt to “fix” our problems of lack of space and funding. It’s so cut-and-dried to them: sacrifice the few to save the many. I try to let such negative comments roll off, but some days are harder than others.

    We are SO excited about your special post for these amazing creatures! Since our inception a little over 2 years ago, we have rescued and successfully rehomed a deaf pit bull, a blind dachshund, a 3-legged mixed breed dog, a one-eyed cat, many middle-aged and older dogs (some who were initially feral). We have provided many life-saving surgeries and medical treatments, including several heartworm treatments. We did all of this in spite of advice to spare the resources and euthanize these animals so we could move more puppies out of the area. Our response is always, “There are plenty of other rescues moving puppies – we are here for the ones considered the misfits of the misfit world.”

    I am contacting some of our adopters of special needs and elder dogs in hope they will share their happy endings, and we will be emailing pictures of a couple of amazing dogs we rescued last month, along with their stories of physical and emotional healing.

    Thank you, from the bottom of our paws, for highlighting these special animals, and for inspiring me to never give up.

    Reply
    • Wow, you made my day! Thanks so much for all you do for these furry angels–and even the fur-challenged ones. *s* I used to live in Johnson City TN and know some parts of the state have many challenges with pet rescue (guess that happens all over, too *sigh*). look forward to your adopters’ stories. Have a wonderful weekend and please pet your furry wonders for me!

      Reply
    • Are you kidding me with that local critic? Who says something like that? Is SHE the one paying it?

      I have to agree with the response the other half just gave when I read this aloud to him. “Okay, so why do you spend thousand of dollars to fix your own broken leg when you can just pay a few bucks to put a bullet in your head?” If you said those sorts of things about disabled humans you’d have a lynch mob after you. So why is it OK to say that about our furry family?

      Mind you, I’m not some bleeding-heart, I recognize death is part of life, not every critter can be saved… heck, I eat meat, I distinguish between “pet”, “food”, and “nuisance” by individual… but where the heck is the respect in just saying “ok you’re broken, and rather than fix you we’ll just kill you”?? Sure, my family has made that tough decision when they couldn’t afford to fix, and couldn’t get enough help to do so, and didn’t want their babies to suffer… but again, different situation, carefully weighed… and again there’s that R-word. But there was no respect at all in the sentiment that you shouldn’t bother rescuing them because they’re “broken”.

      I, for one, applaud your efforts, and would like to thank you for giving the “broken” furkids a second chance.

      Reply
  4. Thank you so much for answering my question, Amy! And, thanks for confirming what my guy has been telling me for so long – I reward and spoil the animals for no good reason. 🙂 I also laughed out loud when you said that I have a kitty “tell” – awesome! HeeHee ❤

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Woof Wednesday: Less Adoptable? More LOVE! « Amy Shojai's Blog

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