May 3 is Specially-Abled Pets Day, a day that celebrates disabled pets and encourages families to open their homes to animals with special needs. In shelters across the country animals with challenges are usually the last pets adopted and the first ones euthanized.
“Disabled does not mean disposable,” says animal rescuer Yvonne Harper of Washington State. When you give a home to a special dog, you save a life, you receive tons of love and you teach your kids wonderful life lessons.”
Are you concerned about a special pet integrating into your home? Don’t worry. Dogs don’t have human hang-ups about missing body parts or disabilities. They don’t worry about their appearance or that other pets will tease them.
As soon as they’re able, canine amputees usually get up and start figuring out how to rebalance and walk around.
“I think amputation is a bigger deal in our mind than in the dog’s mind,” Lorie Huston, DVM, says. “Especially with large dogs, make sure amputees aren’t allowed to become overweight. In January 2012, Haatchi, a five-month-old Anatolian Shepherd, was abandoned on a railway line in East London and was hit by a train. As a result, Haatchi’s tail and one leg had to be amputated.
Colleen Drummond adopted the recuperating dog as a companion for her stepson Owen Howkin, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder that made him withdrawn and anxious. The dog was a literal life changer.
“Everything changed in my life that day,” Owen says. Within three weeks Owen, who hadn’t liked going out of the house in his wheelchair, actually wanted to help walk Haatchi. According to Drummond, the withdrawn kid transformed into a confident, talkative boy who loves interacting with people.
Because of the extent of Haatchi’s injuries, he needed ongoing physical therapy to build up his core and leg muscles, which has not been an inexpensive endeavor. Drummond recommends researching an animal’s financial and medical requirements to help determine whether you can properly care for the dog.
Wendy Holden wrote a book, HAATCHI & LITTLE B: The Inspiring True Story of One Boy and His Dog, about these two remarkable lives transformed. It will be released in July.
Take a blind dog, please. Robert J. Munger, a veterinary ophthalmologist for over 20 years and founder of the Animal Ophthalmology Clinic in Dallas, assures prospective families that visually-challenged dogs make great pets. “But don’t move the furniture,” he warns.
That means dining room chairs should be moved back into position when you’re done, and pick up backpacks and bags from off the floor. Don’t move the food bowls or close doors that are normally left open. Put up barriers to outside doors, stairways, balconies and other dangerous areas.
“All this becomes second nature after a while. You don’t even realize you are doing it,” says Yvonne Harper, who had two blind dogs, Kizmit and Twinkle.
While most visually impaired dogs quickly memorize routes through the house, when they first come to their new homes, dogs may be prone to bumping into things. A little foam wrapped around chair legs reduces unnecessary headaches, and dabbing perfume on furniture as well as on walls and corners allows visually-challenged dogs to maneuver without slamming into objects. Get on your hands and knees (dog eye level) to find sharp or jutting objects.
Harper says she taught her dogs the command “wall,” which warns of a solid object in their path. After hearing the word they would change the direction in which they were running.
A San Antonio dog named Kota’s warning word is “look out.” Her mom, Becky Bridges Dinnin, says, “We are her seeing-eye people. We have to be careful about how we call her so she doesn’t bump into things. We don’t stand between a barrier and her when we call her.” Instead they snap their fingers to get Kota to follow them.
Because blind (also deaf) dogs startle easily when sleeping, families with mischievous kids don’t make ideal homes. When startled out of a sound sleep, these dogs may bite. People can safely approach visually and hearing-challenged dogs by patting a nearby cushion or tapping on a wood floor. Another tip: Always speak before touching a blind dog to prevent him from being startled.
Visually-challenged dogs prefer toys that make noise. Some motion-activated toys make sounds when the dog walks nearby. Dr. Huston warns all dogs need to be supervised so they don’t tear up the toy and swallow the squeaker.
Yvonne Harper says it was important to treat her dogs as normally as possible. Kizmit loved the twice-daily walks. “We wanted to give them a full life with lots of adventures. They loved every minute of it.” Harper says the benefits she received from living with special needs animals are endless. “They have a way of putting life in perspective. They make you very grateful for what you have, and encourage you to live in the moment.”
Yvonne feels so strongly about disabled pets she now dedicates her time to raising awareness about special pets through her Blind Faith book series.
Let’s hear it for deaf doggies. They keep track of what’s going on around them by feeling vibrations. So people can communicate with their deaf friends using vibrations and visual signals/commands.
At close range, sharp handclaps might get a dog’s attention. Turning a flashlight on and off in the dog’s direction can be used to call him, especially if the light is followed by a tasty treat. A collar with a bell makes it easier to find a hearing-impaired dog when he’s moving around the house.
Beth Lacey Gill of Owings Mills, MD, is working with Lewis, a deaf foster dog. “Caring for him is no different than my other fosters, except that I use touch and sight rather than auditory cues,” she says. Lewis has learned sign language for “sit” and “good boy.” To call him inside the house, Gill guides him with a cat laser.
“It’s totally true that a deaf dog will need someone willing to put in a little extra time so that everyone’s speaking the same language,” Gill says. “It won’t always be an easy road. But the bond that comes out of that work will be stronger than any you’re likely to experience ever again. If you’re looking for an animal who can provide unconditional love and faith in you—this is the one. Handicapped dogs are great!”
It’s clear that disabled pets have special needs. However it’s equally clear that their people benefit as much as the dogs. Disabled dogs teach children valuable life lessons including perseverance, acceptance of others who may be different, and unconditional love. Because they are often ignored in favor of “normal” dogs, you are most assuredly saving a life. Open your home to a specially-abled dog. You won’t be sorry; in fact, I promise you’ll be blessed.
Are you going to celebrate Specially-Abled Pets Day? Tell us about your special dog in the comments, and share pictures so we can celebrate together!
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About the author: Dusty Rainbolt, ACCBC, is the vice president of the Cat Writers’ Association, editor-in-chief of AdoptAShelter.com and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She’s the award-winning author of eight fiction and non-fiction books including her most recent paranormal mystery, Death Under the Crescent Moon.