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Petfinder staffers have warm places in their hearts for special needs pets


September 17 through 23 is Adopt-A-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week, giving me a perfect opportunity to tell you about some very special staffers here at Petfinder. They, like many of you, have soft spots in their hearts for special-needs pets.

Gray cat relaxing

Sara’s Mr. Pickwick is FIV+

Sara, director of shelter outreach, has a feral cat colony in her backyard, and Gerald just showed up one day. When she took him to the vet, she discovered he was FIV+  so she couldn’t release him back into the colony. She has a second FIV+ cat from Angels of Animals. The staff there knew Sara had experience with FIV+ cats, so when a feral, but friendly FIV+ cat came into their care and needed a permanent home, they called her. In general, Sara says, FIV+ kitties are not difficult and — as long as they don’t fight — you can have FIV+ and non-FIV+ cats in the same household because transmission is through bite wounds.

One concern that Sara notes is that “it’s important to get an FIV+ cat to a vet at any small signs of his not feeling well because things can escalate quickly.” She knows firsthand. Her Mr. Pickwick developed feline stomatitis, a condition in which cats develop an allergy to plaque around their teeth. In Jan 2012, he had all his teeth removed by a feline dental specialist and is now doing fine.

Sara also has a Pit Bull, a breed that is considered “less adoptable” because of bad press. His name is Diamond Shamrock, and he’s afraid of her kitties. So much for the Pit Bull’s ferocious reputation.


Kristen’s Chewy only has three legs.

Kristen, Petfinder’s public outreach coordinator, has a three-legged Corgi mix named Chewy. She adopted him from A.D.O.P.T. in Naperville, IL. “I never looked at him as a special needs pet. I was struck by his personality first,” Kristen told me. She is more vigilant than she would be if he had four legs. “He gets excited and wants to jump up on the bed,” she says. “Getting up is never a problem, and he’s quite certain he can get down. I prefer not to test that theory.”

She also watches his diet. “With front leg amputees, there’s a lot a stress on the remaining front leg, so I like to keep him at the lower range of his healthy weight,” she says. “I make sure he eats healthy food and give him supplements for arthritis. He thinks he’s getting a cookie.” Read more about three-legged dogs and their care.

Sharon is one of Petfinder’s shelter outreach coordinators. Her special pet is a black domestic shorthair cat named Homer. Black cats and dogs are sometimes discriminated against, but that wasn’t what kept Homer from being adopted. He was born without eyes.

“A friend of mine is the shelter manager at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in New Jersey and she told me about him. ” Homer was brought into the shelter when he was six week old and as they cleaned his eyes, which looked infected, they realized he had none. Sharon’s friend is the shelter manager and told Sharon about him.

Christmas was approaching and Sharon decided Homer would be a good Christmas present for her then-13-year-old son, Shawn. When Shawn saw the kitten, Sharon asked,” Do you notice anything about him?” Shawn pointed to the kitten’s eyes, and Sharon said, “I know he’s not perfect.” Shawn’s reply was enough to make any mother proud: “He’s perfect for me.”

Blind black kitten

Sharon (and her son, Shawn) love and care for Homer, a cat with no eyes.

“Homer has adapted very well,” Sharon says. “The vet says he has a mental map. He goes upstairs, downstairs, onto the counters in the bathroom. First he jumps onto the toilet, then onto the counter. The only time he ever crashes is when he is frightened and bolts and there’s a wall there. His hearing is really good. I can rub my fingers together and he comes right to me.”

Usually people don’t even realize he’s blind, she says. Her now-fiancé came over three times before he said, “I think something’s wrong with your cat’s eyes.” (Read our article, “Living With Blind Dogs” to learn more about  living with a blind pet.)

Sharon thinks there’s no good reason to pass over special needs pets, but does suggest researching the specific disability before adopting. “A deaf dog, for instance, requires a different kind of training and that could be overwhelming to some people.”

Trevor, Petfinder’s development manager, was up for it. He took on a nine-week-old Great Dane that was both deaf and blind. The rescue, says Trevor, was a “straight-out intervention. A vet suggested euthanasia because he thought the dog would have no quality of life. A vet tech absconded with my boy and contacted the local Great Dane rescue who contacted me.”

Blind and deaf white Great Dane

Trevor adopted Keller, a blind and deaf Great Dane.

As for accommodations, Trevor has made his house Keller-friendly. “I keep open spaces and don’t move furniture around,” he says, and communication is mostly by touch.

“Keller is about as active as any Great Dane — not very,” Trevor says. “He is a total sweetheart and loves everyone he meets. You can see the joy on his face when my son comes home to visit.”

Jane, our senior producer whose blogs often appear here, has a kitty with cerebellar hyplasia. She says his mom probably had distemper when she was pregnant and it affected the motor center of his brain. The kitty, Wesley, came to her home as a foster pet, but then she became a “foster failure.” She couldn’t give the little charmer up.

“Because of his condition,” she says, ” he wobbles a lot, falls down sometimes and has a slight head tremor.” But she adds that “it doesn’t affect his overall health nor his determination to have a full life. He’s a happy little guy.”

White kitten with toy

Jane loves Wesley, cerebellar hyplasia and all.

Because Wes can’t jump or land properly, she has had to kitten-proof to make sure there’s always a safe landing place.

“Whenever people first see Wes, or one of my fosters like Peyton — their first reaction is to cringe,” she says. “It’s not easy seeing them fall down so much. But once people see what full lives they lead, how happy they are and what BIG personalities they have, they fall in love.” To read more about Wesley, visit his Facebook page.

Our hats are off to these staffers who have adopted special needs pets. They themselves are special, too.

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