Why “less-adoptable” is my favorite kind of pet

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September 17-23 is Petfinder’s Adopt-A-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week. Find out how you can help us celebrate, then visit our gallery of special less-adoptable pets.

My wonderful oldster, Pony Baloney, is about as handsome as a horse can be …to me. When I look at him I see a graceful, sleek and funny sweetheart. So last month when a photographer was visiting my farm for a photoshoot of the “real me” for a magazine, I suggested we end our day with the horses, the rustic wood fence and the sun setting behind the old log cabin.


Pony with his “good” eye forward.

We all got in position. the photographer started framing his shot, but instead of clicking, I saw grimacing. Was my hair standing up? Was my fly open? No. My pretty Pony was shining his milky dead eye at the camera and smiling WIDE at the photographer.

We had been together for several hours to get photos of me feeding the chickens, nuzzling the goats and sheep, feeding the cows apples, and, finally giving some treats to the horses. The photographer was a real animal lover, and we hit it off almost instantly when I caught him taking candid artistic shots of my mamma chicken just for fun. But this obvious animal lover was having a hard time just looking at Pony’s smoky eyeball, much less imagining it on the cover of his magazine.

Magazines and television shows crave beauty — I suppose we all do. After Hurricane Katrina we were contacted by a major network TV show. They wanted to know if we had inspiring stories of pets and people reunited. Boy, did we! The producers and our team immediately got to work on one of the best — a senior woman was about to be reunited with her dog. They had been separated by rescue workers when she was whisked off to the hospital, but that was after the elderly woman had floated in her home clinging to her ceiling fan while never letting go of her dog for three days!

She thought she’d never see her dog again, especially after having been hospitalized for several months. But using the Petfinder database, volunteers were able to find her dog and plans were made to reunite them. Now the TV cameras could be there to witness the whole thing.

The day before the happy reunion we got a call. The producers met the senior lady who never let go of her dog and learned that in the flood she’d lost her false teeth and hadn’t been able to get new ones. The happy reunion was perhaps one of the most successful and awesome stories of the year but it never got aired because, we were told, the show had to maintain a certain aesthetic for its viewers.

Pony Baloney was injured in mid-life so he has sight in only one eye. In addition to being less “traditionally” attractive on his “bad side,” he frequently forgets that he has a bad eye and runs into things, gets surprised by animals sneaking up on that side and even pokes his bad eye with twigs. You’d think after many years of being a one-eyed pony, he would adapt more, but not Pony. He is happy, playful and a trickster — but clever about that eye? Not so much. His environment must be managed and all pokey things eliminated. This is what makes him “special needs.”

Betsy and Mort

Betsy gets a nuzzle from Mort.

This, plus the fact that he and Mort both need chronic medication that not everyone could find ways to afford.

And there is the fact, too, that they are over 30 years old and can’t ever be ridden. When they came to live with me their family shed tears — their circumstances couldn’t allow them to care for Mort and Pony — and because the horses were old and “special,” there was little hope for them.

Until I met their wonderful previous family, Mort and Pony’s days were probably numbered. That was maybe eight years ago now, and they have given my family so much joy. But they are special, no doubt. And every once in a while I’m reminded just how special when I run into someone riding a young (less than 20) horse on our trail and they are muscular, their heads flat, and their backs lack that beautiful ski-slope shape I find so attractive. Those young horses seem like entirely different creatures to my eyes.

My attraction to special needs pets is no secret. Jim, my old hound dog (R.I.P.),  provided a steady stream of content to blog about. He was a medically expensive special needs pet, but they aren’t always. Buster, my first rescued box turtle, had a deformed shell so he couldn’t retract and hide in it and needed a special habitat free from predators that would otherwise pose no threat to a turtle. All my sweet little de-beaked chickens (that were dumped in the county park) needed 10-days of antibiotics (<$7 at the agriculture store) and a deep bowl for their oats so they can grab mouthfuls of food — a necessity if someone cuts off your beak, rendering you powerless to catch bugs.

Jake with Betsy

Jake and Betsy pause for a “shake.”

Jake (aka Naughty Jake) probably qualifies as special needs because he is so darned smart and self- actualized. He continues to find new ways to challenge us. Usually they involve some new escape trick and a self-guided excursion to the dog park or the kiddie playground. He is not an easy couch potato who just wants to please us. He wouldn’t work in just any family but for us, he is beyond awesome!

I suppose my point is that while many characters in my family qualify for special needs in some way, it hardly ends up being what defines them. No. Maybe that isn’t what I mean. Perhaps I mean that being special is defining and that it helps us create a depth in our relationship that is beyond “hardship” (certainly some of my pets have seen some hardship) and is, truly, SPECIAL.

I once received a letter about a little girl and her mom who came to Petfinder to adopt a deaf dog. The little girl was deaf and she thought she could do good by saving a dog like her. Those folks that search on Petfinder for “special needs” — the little green heart– are very special people.

I never set out to find special needs pets — but about half my family seems to be made up of them. My weakness is oldsters who theoretically don’t have much time left. I chalk it up to latent commitment issues. What do you call a woman who has a soft spot for old or sick animals? Probably special needs. Good thing my husband loves them, too — it would be embarrassing to have to put a little green heart by my name on Match.com.

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