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home : health : health July 24, 2017

5/9/2017 1:41:00 PM
Adopting a special-needs pet
Autumn was born deaf and ended up blind  a special-needs dog. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee
+ click to enlarge
Autumn was born deaf and ended up blind a special-needs dog. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee

By Jodi Schneider McNamee

Special-needs pets are among the most challenging for shelters and rescue groups to adopt out, and many never find a loving home.

There are thousands of special-needs dogs and cats across the country waiting for their forever homes. And most of these pets face euthanasia if not adopted.

A survey, conducted by Petfinder, found that pets with special needs often wait four times longer than average to be adopted.

These dogs and cats are overlooked because of their age, medical needs, or behavioral issues - including animals who were victims of abuse. But a missing leg, blindness, insulin-dependence or emotional scars make these furry friends no less lovable.

Did you know that special-needs pets still have love and devotion to give, and they can adapt to their new homes and lifestyles better than you think?

These pets are often overlooked because potential adopters don't know what their conditions involve. They may have legitimate concerns about extra medical or training costs.

These worrisome impressions can be easily overcome through research, speaking with shelter staff who are familiar with the animal, and consulting a veterinarian to better understand the pet's actual needs.

In animals, the definition of special needs is fairly broad, including physical and mental disabilities. Some pets with severe, debilitating cases of post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety from past trauma may be considered special-needs. Other types of special-needs pets include amputees, the deaf and blind, and those with chronic illnesses like FeLV, diabetes, or cancer.

Still others may have social or behavioral limitations, including severe separation anxiety or extreme situational fears. Previously abused pets may fall into this category.

Behavioral issues are often managed through consistent and positive training. However, some animals with physical limitations can adapt surprisingly fast to their circumstances. A three-legged dog will still run and play, while a blind or deaf pet will learn to rely on other senses to navigate his home and interact with human family members.

A special-needs pet is not defined by his circumstances, and is not aware of how he may be different from other animals of his kind. He is above all a cat or dog - a message often lost on potential adopters.

Although often requiring some type of dedicated care or training, most special-needs pets are just like any other pet. For example, a blind animal relies on his other senses - hearing and smell - to learn about and navigate his environment. So, a dog or cat who loses key senses with age, such as sight, often show no signs of a disability until his pet parent rearranges the furniture and then the animal seemingly becomes lost in his own home.

Your special-needs pet deserves the same loyalty that he gives unconditionally to you, and the best thing you can do beyond opening your heart and home to him is providing regular veterinary care.

Before adopting your special-needs pet, meet with your veterinarian to learn about the type of care that will be required at various stages of your new furry friend's life. Knowledge and preparedness will make for an enriched lifetime with your pet, and will help lessen surprises so that you can be prepared for any changes in your pet's condition.

Remember, not every pet parent is suited to adopt a special-needs animal - lots of time, patience, and expense are required. Many shelters are willing to cover the lifetime costs of these pets.

Regardless of how a dog or cat became a special-needs pet - by being born that way, illness, accident, the aging process or at the hands of an abuser - they have a lot to teach us about resilience and love without judgement.

If you're considering pet adoption, ask at your local shelter about special-needs pets or find a specialized rescue in the area.

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