I noticed a few readers coming here from Google looking for resources on adopting special needs animals, which I think is awesome—taking unique animals into your life is a really excellent thing.
Animals are classified as special needs for various reasons. Most have behavioural problems or unique medical needs, and until quite recently, most animal shelters put them down, rather than trying to find homes for them. Luckily, attitudes about special needs animals are changing, and most shelters accommodate at least some special needs animals, or send them on to shelters which can handle them.
To find out if your local animal shelter has special needs animals for adoption, call them—if they don’t care for special needs animals, they can refer you to a shelter which does, or keep you in mind if a unique animal enters the shelter looking for a home. Most shelter staff are happy to work with members of the public who want to adopt or sponsor special needs animals.
If you are thinking of adopting a special needs animal, get ready for an intense experience. Animals with behaviour problems, for example, need to be constantly monitored, and some of them require therapy: yes, there are animal psychologists. Many behaviourally challenged animals have issues around other animals, small children, men, or bright colors, and may sometimes have violent reactions to these triggers. Working with these animals requires patience, love, and tolerance: if you’re not sure whether or not you can handle it, try volunteering at the shelter and interacting with the animals, or fostering an animal with behaviour problems. Sometimes just being in a supportive home environment is enough to level out behaviour problems…at other times, not.
For animals with medical issues, be prepared to spend a lot of money at the veterinarian, and find a good vet who will stick with you, give you great information, and talk with you honestly about options. Not sure if you can afford it? In 2004, I spent over $2,000 combined on vet bills for Mr. Bell’s first surgery and Loki’s irritable bowel diagnosis. Pet insurance is a really, really good idea.
Many animals with medical problems require daily shots or other medications. Sometimes they are frustrated and in pain, and express it in strange ways. You have to plan a house for animals with mobility issues, keep the furniture covered for animals with continence issues, and be prepared for strange medical adventures at all hours of the night.
I’m certainly not trying to discourage you from adopting an animal with unique needs: I think it’s a great thing to do, and you will be rewarded with a loyal and loving friend who will appreciate you every day. You can also have the pleasure of saving an animal from an unpleasant life, or giving someone a second chance. You can talk to local shelter staff for more information about special needs pets, or your veterinarian if you have existing animals. For a sampling of the kind of animals you might meet, you can also use online resources.
San Francisco, for example, has several animal shelters. The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a special needs section on their website. Pets Unlimited has Saffron House for FIV positive cats (note: if you already have cats which have tested negative, you should not adopt FIV cats or cats with feline Leukemia…but if you don’t, think about adopting one of these special needs cats). They also have special needs animals in their general population such as new friends with diabetes, three legs, or other medical issues. (Watch out for three legged animals, though: they can motor around a lot faster than you’d think!) You can also use a resource like Petfinder, which is linked with many regional shelters.
You certainly won’t regret having a special needs animal in your life, although it may be highly challenging at times. In my opinion, it’s well worth it.
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