PARIS — Some need a certain diet. Others require a shot of insulin or a daily pill. A few have behavioral issues, or maybe had an accident that left them a bit disabled. Maybe they struggle with hair loss. It might be your next best friend, family member or soulmate. And she’s waiting at a nearby shelter to help spread some holiday cheer in your home. Special needs pets are just as adoptable as kittens and puppies.

Brenda, a 10-year-old Pomeranian mix, was brought to the Responsible Pet Care shelter in October. Senior pets have a harder time finding new families than puppies or kittens. Advertiser Democrat photo by Nicole Carter

“There are all kinds of animals that you might call special needs,” said Shirley Boyce, president of Responsible Pet Care of Oxford Hills. “A feral cat is special needs and we have a buddy program for them. An animal may be missing a limb, an eye. It may be blind or deaf. And a healthy senior can still be hard to find a good home for.”

Some shelter cats carry viruses like feline leukemia (FeLV), feline HIV (FIV) or respiratory ailments. Of these, FeLV cats will be the hardest to care for and can pass the virus on to unvaccinated cats. Those with FIV can live pretty healthy lives and as long as other cats in a household are spayed or neutered and good-natured, they can cohabit with them. Respiratory ailments usually clear up once a cat has departed shelter life but are easily managed with oral medications.

“Diabetes is common in cats and make it hard to adopt them out,” said Boyce. “They need insulin injections on a daily basis. A person who takes on a diabetic cat is going to see regular medical expenses, they need to be willing to give shots, and they need to have a reliable schedule.”

Klaus, a cat with only three legs, is also extremely shy, making it difficult for him to even get to know prospective adopters. Submitted photo

Issues affecting both cats and dogs include amputations or lost eyes. According to Boyce, a cat missing an eye is generally more quickly adopted than one missing a limb. She points out Klaus, a hefty tiger with three legs. He has been at the shelter for years and reigns over the front office. A shy boy, his inclination to hide when new people come in makes it unlikely he can bond with potential adopters.

Boyce recalled a cat that had been picked up off the side of the road. She had only three legs, and she was pregnant.

“I don’t know how she even survived,” Boyce said. “We couldn’t understand how a cat would have an amputated leg and not be spayed. But she had her babies and when she was ready we found her a good home.”

Some animals develop skin issues in the shelter from stress, or are surrendered due to allergies that owners feel they can’t manage. A willingness to test different high quality diets is a priority, and sometimes extra supplements will help.

Irritable bowel syndrome also requires close observation and careful diet. Boyce said that intestinal issues may be caused by the stress of living in a shelter environment and improve in happier surroundings. But potential adopters are usually leery of taking the gamble.

Behavior issues are difficult to assess in dogs because being in a shelter can create some that will disappear once it goes into a home and life stabilizes. But other problems might not be revealed until the dog goes into a more relaxed setting. Boyce took in one such dog herself, an Australian Shepherd mix deemed unadoptable.

“Rooney came in as a stray, emaciated and filthy,” she said. “The look in his eyes, defeated. He was probably the most broken dog we ever had.”

Rooney became aggressive about crating and it was difficult to walk or exercise because he was terrified of any passing car. After a few months Boyce started taking him to a tennis court so he could exercise in a safe area. He didn’t understand.

“He just sat there on the court. I tossed a tennis ball for him and he just looked at me.”

She decided to bring him to her house to test how he’d react to her Boston Terrier. They got along well and even played a little. While he was at a dead end at the shelter, Boyce and her husband thought fostering him with their dog might help socialize him and make him adoptable. But as he settled in, a whole new set of challenges emerged.

“He began doing the strangest things I’ve ever seen a dog do. He had so much baggage. He would chew his feet, grab at his back end and growl. He would just spin.” Free to roam through the house, Rooney would pace only a certain distance, indicating he had never lived unattached to a chain. With the support of a trainer who volunteered at the shelter, tears and patience Boyce worked to reinforce any positive behavior she saw and slowly he improved.

“Rooney destroyed all the floors in our house, but he loves us and we have an incredible relationship. He’s not perfect and we have to be careful with the situations we put him in, like with house guests. We don’t want him to fail so he doesn’t get exposed to people he doesn’t know, especially since he instinctively herds.”

Young Blinky’s eye doesn’t slow him down. His perky personality should make it easy for him to bond with a new owner. Advertiser Democrat photo by Nicole Carter

Several special needs pets at Responsible Pet Care are available for adoption. Blinky is a young male cat with an eye issue that was treated by a veterinarian. Social and engaging, Boyce is confident he will choose the right person to take him.

Then there is Brenda, an older Pomeranian mix. She is ready to go, but staff have found that she can be slow to warm up to new people, like volunteers who come in at night. She is not always willing to leave her kennel with them. So she will need a patient human she can build trust in.

One very special cat is Oliver, a big ginger fluff ball. A long-term resident of the shelter, he was rescued from a drug house and weighed only two pounds. Neglect and hunger caused his stomach and intestinal system to constrict.  He is on a strict wet-food diet and must be monitored that he properly digests what he eats. Boyce said that he was once adopted by a loving couple, but they unfortunately missed Oliver’s cues that he was ailing and had to return him. After a prolonged, expensive recovery, Oliver is once again in good form. But finding him another home will be a challenge.

It takes special people with big hearts to adopt pets with special needs, but Boyce notes that they are out there.

“It’s a big decision to take on a pet with baggage,” she said. “When the Collies were rescued from Solon, the outpouring was incredible. In the end after puppies were born, it was close to 200 dogs. We brought three of them here. A lot of those dogs had genetic issues, most were unsocialized, but I think most of them were quickly adopted when they were ready.”

This holiday season, there are many special-needs pets seeking special people. Why not adopt a cat or dog that will reward his new family with a lifetime of love and loyalty?








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