Handicapped Pets Still Enjoy Happy Lives
By Michael Brooks Staff Writer For a pet owner, one of the scariest things that can happen is for your fur baby to suffer a serious injury. If your pet has a debilitating injury, it can cause a drastic life change for your pet and you. Thankfully, for pretty much any injury, there are ways to relieve the pain from pets and to lessen stress for yourself, although that was not always the case.
“Many years ago I had a Keeshond named Mercedes,” said Mark Robinson, CEO of Walking Wheels, a company which has now helped more than one million dogs. “One day, the vet told me Mercedes was having epileptic fits and said I needed to put her to sleep. This was well before the internet took off, so I didn’t question the vet. I had no resources, so I had Mercedes put to sleep.”
In 2000, Robinson was running a message board where people held discussions about their handicapped pets.
“I wish I had access to do more research before I put my pet to sleep. At that time, handi-pet owners were being shamed. I remember one lady from Sweden telling everyone on the board, they were awful and should put our pets out of their misery. That made the message board explode. I had no idea handicapped pets were so under-serviced.
A handicap on a pet can be a wide variety of things. Some are born with handicaps such as missing appendages or being deaf or maybe blind. Other can develop them as they grow older or through normal everyday activities.
“My dog Bingham was born deaf and blind and then started having seizures,” said wildlife rescuer Jessica Coleman of Edna. “He was kind of a genetic mess of a dog. There was a lot of care there. He had daily medications, we couldn’t rearrange the house because he had to know where things were. He only lived about two years, but he had a really happy two years.”
With any handicapped pet, a lot of attention may have to be paid beyond what you would give a ‘normal’ pet.
“Special needs pets can take up substantial time and expense on their owners,” Coleman said. “Space can be an issue too because of equipment, like, if you have to use a wheelchair.
“There can be several considerations, depending on a disability, you may have to think about. For example, if I go on vacation will I be able to find someone that can give medications at a specific time, can I find someone who can give them their therapy every day, or will I have to commit to taking my pet with me everywhere I go. And there is future expense considerations.”
No matter what the situation of the pet is, vet care should always be a top concern.
“At first it was a lot of time,” Coleman said. “As he grew and learned his way around, it was just daily medication administration and always keeping in mind his needs in everything we did. If I rearranged the dining room, for example, it was going to completely destroy his little world.
“We had to keep him on a short leash in public because while he was fine walking on a leash, he didn't have the visual and auditory cues other dogs use to learn how to interact with other animals or people. We had to let him smell us before we could pet him, or move him, because he might get scared and nip.”
“A lot of animal injuries can occur to animal owners who are not intentional being cruel to an animal, but because they dont know any better,” added Coleman. “If you care for a handicap pet, you have to educate yourself. You also have to consider that the life of a handicapped or special needs pet may be shortened.”
A possibly shorter life is only one thing to think about for a handi-pet. As unfortunate as it may be, money oftentimes factors into the decision on how to proceed.
“A pet who suddenly becomes handicapped is probably the hardest thing we can encounter,” said veterinarian Holly Kana of Lakeway Veterinary Clinic in Edna. “Maybe a super healthy dog ruptures a disc and becomes paralyzed and needs surgery or a wheelchair. The owner and I talk about quality of life and it is a super personal thing. Sometimes we do have to put the dog to sleep because the owner can’t do around-the-clock care or they can’t afford it.
“Maybe the dog is hit by a car and it’s pelvis is broke. It can be fixed by a specialist and with management it can eventually heal with a long-term plan. But unfortunately finances become an issue.
“You also have to consider the situation. If you have a tiny dog with a back issue, it may be easier because they can be picked up, but a 150-pound dog can present problems.”
Just as with humans, accidents resulting in physical disabilities can happen any time, but some issues can develop which are specific to certain breeds.
“I see dachsunds with back issues sometimes three times a week,” Kana continued. “The second-most common traumatic injury is getting hit by car or falling out of a vehicle.”
For pet owners who find themselves in this situation, visit a veterinarian and follow a few helpful tips, such as: Establish a daily routine with your pet; find a support group of handicapped pet owners; conduct your own research; and take care of yourself physically and mentally so you are better able to care for your pet.
“Dogs used to be considered an asset,” said Robinson. “That is no longer the case. If your pet sleeps in your bed, it is not an asset. A mobility issue for a dog is no longer an end of life problem. They can live a happy-healthy life. Dog wheelchairs can help recovery from surgery, for healing. It’s really about exercise. When dogs can run and play, they have the opportunity to enjoy life.
“Pets are family and deserve to live happy, healthy lives.”