This piece was written by CBR Foster mom, Mara Burns, from her personal perspective of being and adopter and foster of special needs dogs. “Duncan” is pictured above. Mara is currently fostering ‘Betty’, who came to us blind, but had a miracle surgery on 3/13/12 to restore her vision!
Special needs dogs are….special!
If someone were to ask you if you would consider adopting a special-needs pet, you might shake your head and say with genuine regret, “I really admire people that adopt them, but I just couldn’t do it”. If this is the way you feel, I understand, because I used to feel the same way. But seven years ago, when I allowed myself to finish reading the posting for a blind shelter dog named Duncan, my life changed forever.
Duncan was the cutest beagle I’ve ever seen. He was tiny, only 12 pounds, and had the longest, silkiest brown ears. His head was cocked to one side and his big brown eyes were looking straight through me. I froze when I saw the words, “SPECIAL NEEDS”, in bold, at the top of his description. My hand hovered over the mouse but I couldn’t look away this time-I just had to know about him. As I read his description, thoughts buzzed in my mind. Perhaps you have the same reservations that I did back then.
“Will we have to make modifications to our home?” That depends on the needs of your pet, but could certainly be a possibility. Duncan quickly showed us just how “normal” a blind dog can be. Things we never thought he could do – go up and down stairs, find his water and food bowl, navigate through the house without help, and play with other dogs – he did with ease. We did make modifications to our house, but they were minimal. We learned that it helped Duncan if we didn’t re-arrange the furniture too often, and we pushed in our chairs and put our shoes away so he wouldn’t trip over them. We bought stairs for our couches and beds so it was safe for him to climb up and down as he pleased. He constantly amazed us at his ability to adapt, even when we traveled and were staying somewhere new to him. Nothing seemed to faze him.
“What if I can’t handle their special needs?” When we decided to adopt Duncan, I will admit that I was scared. I’d never adopted a special-needs pet before and I didn’t know what to expect; at first I felt alone. I never imagined that I’d make so many new friends when I adopted a special-needs dog. Thanks to technology, you’re never alone! There are many online support groups, and I happened across a blind-dog owners group and decided to join. I got great tips from fellow members, and it was comforting to share stories with dog-lovers who understood my situation. When we took Duncan out for walks, if someone stopped to pet him, I would explain that he was blind. Their reaction was almost always one of surprise-surprise that he looked and acted so “normal”. I found that I enjoyed telling people his story, and answering any questions they had. For a shy person like me, it was a way for me to come out of my shell. I had many friendly conversations with strangers when I had Duncan with me, and I’d like to think I may have planted the seed in their minds to consider adopting a special-needs dog as well.
“Will it be expensive?” Depending on the pet’s disability or medical situation, it could involve an increased cost of care (special food, medication, additional vet appointments, for example). You should do your research into a pet’s condition so you can be prepared, as much as possible. As part of Duncan’s care, we took him to an eye specialist called an Ophthalmologist. Although a specialist is more expensive than a regular veterinarian, these appointments were necessary to monitor his eyes, as blindness can lead to other complications.
“Will caring for them take more of my time?” The answer to this question is probably, yes. If the pet needs medication, extra time needs to be allotted during your day. This may be an important consideration if you travel often or have children. Depending on their needs, the pet may extra care, such as help with eating, or additional time given to go potty. A special-needs pet depends on you solely for their care and it is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.
Adopting a special-needs pet is not entirely without sacrifice. However, the reward that comes from those sacrifices is a precious gift, and one that will change you forever. The bond that formed between Duncan and I was immeasurable. He needed me, and I loved that feeling. I was his voice, his advocate, and I took that very seriously. When we were met with an obstacle, we made it through together, and he made me so proud that I felt my heart would burst. Through our challenges grew a great love. Without words, Duncan thanked me every day for saving him. When I was having a bad day, one look at him and the challenges he overcame on a daily basis filled me with humility. I am a better person-more patient, more thoughtful, more “whole” because of him.
Duncan was not with us for nearly long enough. His loss was devastating. But we carry his legacy within our hearts. After Duncan passed away, my husband and I made the decision to always have a special-needs dog in our home. Our current pack includes blind Charlie, and Oliver, who has an auto-immune disease called Auto Immune Hemolytic Anemia; both through Cascade Beagle Rescue. There are challenges, but I would argue that could be a possibility for any pet. As with people, you never know what will happen – disease, accidents -over the course of someone’s lifetime. Sometimes people ask me, “How do you do it?” And to that I say that all I have to do is look in my dog’s eyes. They are looking at me, they need me, and the truth is, I need them just as much. I consider their care to be a small price to pay for the gift of their love. I am honored to receive the love of my dogs.
If you do find yourself considering a special-needs pet, I urge you to take that leap of faith. If you have a little extra time, money, and love in your heart, there is always a cute face waiting for someone like you. Special-needs pets are often the first pets to be euthanized in shelters. The theory is that most people don’t want “broken” pets. Blind dogs, deaf dogs, dogs with medical conditions or abnormalities, don’t go as fast, or at all, and shelters can’t keep them all. It breaks my heart when I think that Duncan, Charlie, and Oliver would have certainly met that fate if they were not rescued. To me, they are beautiful, and just as deserving of a loving home as any other dog. They’ve all taught me life lessons that have enriched my world and touched me in ways I can’t even put into words. Will adopting a special-needs pet change your life? Absolutely. You will never be the same, and trust me, you wouldn’t want to be.
[images_mini_gallery width=”299″ height=”200″]http://www.cascaderescue.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Charlie081006.jpg [/images_mini_gallery]
To inquire about some of our special needs beagles, please contact us at: [email protected]