Caring for Special Needs Pets
Let’s face it: having a pet is a big commitment. Animals require lots of timed, energy, and financial resources. Yet all pet owners know that the commitment is well worth it. What we put into our our pets, we get back tenfold in loyalty, love and affection. But what about animals with special needs? These pets require even more time and effort, and often a significant amount of money. But their owners (me included) offer a unanimous, resounding response: caring for special needs pets is worth all of the extra time, money and energy that goes into their care.
When I first laid eyes on Nelson, I knew that he was the cat for me. As I walked into the apartment where he was a foster cat, he hobbled right over to say hello. His lilting, three-legged walk tugged on my heart strings. When he tried to rub his face against my leg, and completely toppled over in the act, the deal was sealed. I was his. I soon learned that Nelson was a very special cat. Several months prior to our meeting, he was found on the mean streets of Philadelphia, half-starved to death and with a giant tumor on his left shoulder. The kind veterinarians who first received Nelson diagnosed him with a type of osteosarcoma that is extremely rare in cats. His entire front left leg had to be removed. When I met him, he had fully recovered from the surgery, but was still learning to function without his leg.
When I decided to adopt Nelson, I knew that he would require extra care. I had to watch him closely, knowing that his cancer could potentially come back at any time, and could present itself in a variety of different ways. For five years, I had to take him in for regular x-ray screenings of his amputation site to verify that the cancer remained in remission. The medical bills added up, and the worry took its toll. Beyond his medical needs, Nelson’s three-leggedness required extra special care. It caused him feel particularly vulnerable, which made him act out aggressively towards other animals and occasionally some people. This made introducing him to other pets especially hairy. In order to prepare him to meet a new kitty, or eventually a much larger canine companion, I had to be very methodical and deliberate. But through the use of special kitty pheromones, plus lots of patience and very, very slow-moving introductions, I have successfully integrated Nelson with a variety of different companions in a variety of different settings. All told, Nelson’s resilience has been an inspiration to everyone he has ever met. He is full of life and love, and manages to get around quite well on those three legs of his!
Most owners of special needs pets say that the key to caring for special needs pets is routine. For pets that require special medical attention, such as glucose testing for diabetic animals, or medication for any variety of reasons, it’s crucial to have a schedule and stick to it. Structure is helpful in the care of all animals, but particularly for special needs pets, it’s important to create a sense of safety and security through familiar, well-rehearsed practices.
Lastly, and especially in cases where the special needs pet is part of a larger group that includes non-special needs pets, it is important to remember that a special needs dog is still a dog. He/she will need to play, to cuddle, and to exercise appropriately. There are myriad ways to accomplish this, including wheelchairs or harnesses for partially paralyzed dogs or cats. Though they may be expensive, these specialized devices allow special needs pets to have the dignity and independence that they deserve.
If you are willing and able to spend a little bit of extra time and money, caring for a special needs pet is very rewarding. Most owners of special needs pets talk about the inspiration they get from the resilience of their furry friends. Moreover, caring for a special needs pet creates an even stronger bond between pet and caregiver. The basis of any pet/owner relationship is the act of nurturing and fulfilling needs. With special needs pets, this is exaggerated, creating a closer relationship between pet and owner. The feelings of love and protectiveness than most pet owners feel towards their little four-legged “children” are heightened and intensified in the case of caring for special needs pets. Reciprocally, special needs pets are aware of the level of care that they receive from their dedicated and loving owners, and are that much more grateful. It’s a win-win situation all around.
Thank you Sara for sharing your story about sweet Nelson with us.