Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Special Needs Pets are not Handicapped

Jack-Jack, Blog Admin Sheila's Tri-pawd Kitty.

Special Needs Pets Are
Not Handicapped

Author, Jan Casey

The inspiration for this
column came from an email forwarded to me by Kim Kuykendall. A note was
attached to watch the video of Lucky Loois from the website:

The video is not just about a dog whose hindquarters are paralyzed, but about
the care the owner provides for him and the bond that exists between the two.
What's refreshing is the owner does not feel sorry for Loois, but instead, he
recognizes the canine's spirit and all that is right with the dog.

Why on earth would anyone
want a pet with special needs? There are plenty of animals in need of adoption
who are “perfect.” It would be quite easy to have a pet euthanized if it
developed a problem such as blindness, deafness, or loss of a limb. What would
possess someone to bring home or keep a handicapped pet? For those of us
blessed with a “less-than-whole” pet, the question is why people wouldn't
want one of these special animals.

Sheila and Jason Rinks
rescued Jack Jack, a kitten with a birth defect that prevented him from using
his front leg. Sheila writes: “Jack Jack has taught me that there is no reason
to feel sorry for these animals or fear the loss of a limb. He does not know he
is missing something. He runs, jumps, climbs and plays more than most cats I've
known. He holds his own against 4 large breeds dogs who could easily fit him
into their mouths. He is the first animal to greet strangers when they come
over, and quickly makes friends; he sings to me, and finds the fun in every
mundane act. I do not pity Jack Jack, nor do I allow anyone else to. He is not
different or handicapped. When people notice he has 3 legs or when we tell
people he has 3 legs, they automatically feel different toward him. I
immediately tell them that he is my most well adjusted animal and a fighter.”

Pets who are blind, deaf, or
without use of a limb or two might be considered handicapped by some, but I
agree with Sheila: these pets are not “handicapped.” The term 'handicapped'
implies one is disadvantaged or disabled. As with people, nothing could be
further from the truth. They only need some adjustments made so they can
participate fully in life. When we provide accommodations for our special needs
pets, we give them the opportunity to do almost all the things other pets do.
The gifts they give us in return are nothing short of miraculous.

A blind pet will often rely
on another pet to help guide its way. Placing a bell on a companion animal will
help the blind pet follow along outside as well as inside the home. (I do
believe animals practice compassion with each other). The cat or dog may have a
heightened sense of taste, smell, and touch, so don't hesitate to use scented articles
and bits of food to lay out a pathway for the pet. A little peanut butter on a
toy will provide a double delight. Providing a massage for your pet is a great
bonding tool as well as a way for the pet to learn to relax when he detects
your scent.

Many people teach their pets
to respond to hand and body cues when training. Animals communicate through
body posture, so teaching a deaf pet to respond to your hand signals is
natural. Get her attention first by teaching her that the beam from a flashlight
means look to you for a reward. Once she connects with you visually, other
behaviors can be put on cue through lure and reward. Many folks like to use
sign language as the cues.

Penny Craighead shares her thoughts on caring for Peaches, her 12 year old paralyzed
Peke. “After consulting with the veterinarians at UT Vet Hospital, I was told
surgery was not an option. My choices: 1. have her euthanized; 2. learn to live
with her disabilities. #1 was NEVER an option. Is it easy caring for a
handicapped pet...No. Is it a struggle...Yes. You will need a level of
understanding that will allow you to learn and interpret their language for
feeding, comfort, and potty needs. It requires love, commitment, and full time
dedication to caring for the one that will love you unconditionally. Is it
worth it? Yes, Yes, Yes!”

Though rather pricey, there are wheelchairs and carts available for
paralyzed pets in need. K-9 Carts (
DogKarts (
http://dogkarts.com/), and Eddie's
Wheels (
are just a few of the companies that sell custom wheels for dogs and cats. Some
companies have a rental option. There are also online sites like
which offer plans for homemade pet wheelchairs.

Euthanasia should not be the automatic response when faced with a physically
challenged pet. My own tripod dog, Dodi, sets an example for me daily, waking
each day without complaint, ready for every new experience that may come his
way. Take the opportunity to learn how special these animals can be. You'll
find them to be extraordinary teachers of the art of living life to its fullest.

Jan Casey is a
reward-based trainer in Florida
at Courteous Canine, Inc. www.courteouscanine.com
and owner of Smiles and Wags Pet Services
www.smilesandwags.com. Mrs.
Casey is a member of the Association of Animal
Behavior Professionals.
Casey is a columnist for the Cookeville,
Herald-Citizen Pet
and Kid's Korner .
This column was originally written for the Herald-Citizen www.herald-citizen.com.

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