Park Slope

Taking Care Of Pets With Special Needs

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Ian was brought to a kill shelter with no use of his back legs, but has made a great recovery -- and is looking for a home! Photo via Red Hook Dog Rescue.
Ian was brought to a kill shelter with no use of his back legs, but has made a great recovery — and he’s looking for a home! Photo via Red Hook Dog Rescue.

Every pet has a unique story, especially in Park Slope.

Walking through Prospect Park during off-leash hours, there are hundreds of stories waiting to be heard and owners that are happy to share them. Sometimes the most touching are the stories about special needs pets.

Many years ago, we met a Park Slope resident who built a makeshift wheelchair for his 60-pound German shepherd mix whose back legs couldn’t support him. They lived on the 4th floor with no elevator, and every day he carried his dog up and down the stairs.

The love we have for our pets goes beyond what some might call a regular routine.

Brooklyn dog trainer Harriet Zucker (CPDT-KA) helps rescue special needs dogs (blind, deaf, and amputee dogs) in the NYC area through Red Hook Dog Rescue, which she started in 2010. She works to pull special needs dogs out of the shelter and into foster or forever homes.

“I am a trainer so I like to work with them,” says Harriet, who thinks these animals are inspirational. “They don’t know they have a disability.”

Special needs pets need our love as much as we need theirs! These resilient pets have a rough time finding homes when they’re in shelters. People’s perceptions of adopting them are a little skewed, but they don’t have to be.

Animal Care & Control’s adoption manager, Jessica Vaccaro, agrees, saying, “Animals are incredibly resilient. Adopting a pet with specials needs isn’t necessarily all that different from any other adoption. Whether animals are blind, deaf, three-legged, or one-eyed, they learn to adapt to their surroundings pretty quickly and easily.”

“It’s usually the owners who get freaked out,” says Harriet. Harriet’s met so many people who are shocked at what animals with special needs can do. But she thinks it’s the owners who need a little extra help. To her, the animals figure it out very quickly.

“There are tons of resources,” Harriet says. “I think it’s a little extra work, but I don’t think it’s a lot of extra work.” Hand signals are key to communicating with most deaf dogs. And it’s “a lot more talking with blind dogs.”

One-year-old Quarterbak will soon get his cataracts removed! Photo by Red Hook Dog Rescue.
One-year-old Quarterback will soon get his cataracts removed! Photo by Red Hook Dog Rescue.

The rescue pulled Quarterback, or QB, a blind one-year-old dog, from AC&C’s euthanasia list a few months ago. He immediately went to an ophthalmologist to test his eyes, and he’s eligible to get his cataracts removed! (No more accidental basket crushing for QB.) Harriet says she’s putting together a fundraiser to help pay for QB’s surgery.

Red Hook Dog Rescue and AC&C are always looking for foster volunteers. If you’re interested in fostering or adopting a pet with special needs, look through some of the many resources out there, like BlindDogs.com, DeafDogsRock.com, and Yahoo Groups, which offers a variety of forums for owners with special needs pets. Here are some tips for adopters of three-legged cats and dogs too!

We’d love to hear some of your experiences — if you’ve owned or fostered pets with special needs, share your stories in the comments below!

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