Adopting Special Needs Pets

Adopting Special Needs Pets

These Extraordinary Pets Need a Little Extra TLC

It is estimated that as many as 8 million pets enter shelters across the country each year. Of those millions, countless thousands have serious injuries or behavior issues that qualify them as pets with very special needs. What do they need?

Well, some very exceptional owners of course.

Adopting Max

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Pamela Nakamura of San Jose, Calif., wasn’t necessarily looking to adopt a special needs pet when she came across a beautiful yellow Lab named Max. “I knew from his photo that he was missing an eye,” says Pamela. “I didn’t want him to get passed by and I really wanted to give him a good home.”

While Max is a little clumsier than your average dog (he has a tendency to bump into fences and walls) he has surprising mouth-eye coordination that makes him excellent at playing fetch, says Pamela. Learning to walk him was a little awkward in the beginning. However, she quickly learned if she keeps him on her right side that she’s within his eyesight and he feels safe and content.

Overall, life with Max has been really positive and Pamela says she wouldn’t hesitate adopting a special needs pet again.

What is a Special Needs Pet?

Special needs can encompass various disabilities, chronic medical conditions and behavioral issues. Some common problems among cats and dogs include missing one or more limbs, hind limb paralysis, deafness and or blindness, diabetes, allergies, urinary tract infections and lack of socialization.

Some pets might require diapers, ramps, support slings, regular medication, and dog training and/or pet socialization classes.

The Right Stuff


Rochelle Michalek is the executive director of Paws Chicago, a no-kill shelter that rescues and adopts out injured and healthy pets in the Windy City. Animals with disabilities are incredibly adaptable and despite their injuries can still be functional and even find a way to play, she says.

“We put animals in homes where there is a commitment to succeed,” says Michalek. People who adopt disabled pets ought to be of the proactive set. The environment at home has got to meet the needs of the pet and owners have to be committed to providing exercise, stimulation and training when necessary.

“Paw’s philosophy is one of education,” says Michalek. “We really talk about the cost of medical care so people in tricky financial situations know what they are taking on.”

So at Paws, adopters can opt for a free consultation with a veterinarian to learn how much their pet’s disability could cost over a lifetime. Owners are also encouraged to attend training classes with their dogs (for which they receive a discount for adopting a Paws pet).

Some potential adopters might want to seek out a “Foster to Adopt” program similar to the one at Paws. This policy allows owner two weeks to take home the pet and decide if they’d like to follow through with the adoption allowing them the opportunity to see how the pet fits into their lifestyle and home.

Adopt a Disabled Pet

Want to make a special needs pet part of your family? Look to your local shelter or one of the following specialty organizations: