Parenting a Disabled (Specially-Abled) Pet: Caring for a Dog or Cat with Disability
May 3rd is Specially-Abled Pets Day. Founded in 2006 by Colleen Paige, it promotes adoptions and celebrates these amazing animals.
The term ‘disabled’ or ‘specially-abled’ brings along with it, a lot of negative, sometimes unnecessary and definitely non-productive connotations. These and a lack of awareness puts the lovely animals in a difficult spot making adoptions extremely difficult. One needs to understand that disability is sometimes a very human phenomenon. For instance, take Ekakshi, our lovely cat who has been blind in one eye since birth. Now to Ekakshi, she hasn’t seen life otherwise, she is as much as a cat as any other. No one gets to tell her or convince her that she is what humans consider ‘disabled’.
While birth defects are one type, amputated limb/s, loss of mobility, paralysis and more are considered disabilities in animals.
When you choose to adopt a specially-abled pet you take up a task that very few would consider. You also offer a loving home and family to a pet that could have potentially spent all their life in a shelter.
Specially-abled pets are very willing to learn how to go about life with the alterations. They are extremely perseverent and patient (probably more than a human would ever be). They do not feel sorry for themselves and enjoy life to the fullest. Each day with a special pet will be like a life lesson where you learn something new. Like Rituparna Mukherjee, mother to a specially-abled cat, Scrappy and dog, Gullu says that her pets have made her more compassionate. They’ve made her realize that humans aren’t higher or greater than animals. That animals are intelligent creatures.
Specially-abled dawgies score brownie points when the lack of one skill gives way to a whole new set of skills or advantages. Pets who haven’t had the disability since birth do their best to get back to functioning as independently as they did before the disability.
Like Sutapa Dasgupta, mother of Kintu, a specially-abled dawgie mentions, “Kintu got run over by a car when he was a month old. Because of the accident, his hind limbs got partially paralysed and he lost control over his bowels. He has to wear a diaper most of the time. But this hasn’t stopped him from being as fast as Flash. Once he starts running he can’t be caught easily. Kintu has a very independent spirit and is a very happy pet.”
While life is not very different for a pet with a disability, it does bring some added responsibility on the parent. Not drastically, but just avoiding situations that would put the pet in trouble. We spoke with Pragati Halder from Kolkata. Pragati takes care of 20 dogs at her home. Rani and Pari are her two lovely specially-abled dogs. Pragati mentioned, “The biggest challenge was understanding the special needs of the 2 babies. While at heart, they are the same as any of my other babies, they do need a much stricter control on what they eat and on their daily medicine dosage. They often do not want to have medicines every day, so the onus remains on us to ensure that the routine is maintained.”
Know that parenting a special pet does need commitment. You need to assess your resources and responsibilities wisely, before you bring them home. You need to be proactive in supporting your pet as they try to live a complete life. There can always be a positive future for some specially-abled pets. A lot of pets who lose mobility in their limbs, or lose their limbs itself, do learn to move around on their own if given the right care and motivation.
Like Pragati mentions, “An incident that I vividly remember is when they were all playing in the garden. I suddenly saw Pari standing on all 4 of her limbs! It was just for a few seconds before she again sat down and started crawling using her front limbs. But those few seconds gave me hope that the future may be bright for her.”
She goes on to say, “My babies have provided my life purpose which was absent before they arrived. I have always felt that our lives should be used to make a difference, and my babies have given me that opportunity.” And very truly so, parenting a specially-abled pet does give one a new motive and purpose in life. A feeling of giving back to nature by caring for its creation. So much positive karma.
That we’ve already spoken about all the differences in parenting a special pet, there’s a lot that still remains the same. A special pet will love you just as unconditionally as any other pet. They will trust you to take care of their hindrances and forgive them when they mess up. They will believe that you accept them with all your heart for who they are as you would accept any other pet. Receiving this assurance warms one’s heart. So much that even when times get tough you won’t ever feel like letting them go or giving up on them.
Zara Omrani, fondly mentions the memory of how Shayli, their 2-legged Pomeranian became a part of the Omrani family. “I saw a post on the People For Animals Facebook group. It was about a 2-month-old Pomeranian without front legs. They were looking for foster parents or adoption. I spoke to my husband and we decided to foster her. Her rescuer said at first he thought she was a cat rolling on the street; she was so small. We brought her home. And that was it, how could we give her away… We were totally in love with her. We knew that having 5 pets would be tough, but it didn’t scare us. We named her Shayli (unique), and Shayli was now a part of our family.”
It is amazing how animals bring out the best in humans. When finding words to describe their affection to us, the most common one would be “unconditional love”. Unconditional, irrespective of our appearance, our race, our preferences and quirks. Irrespective of our mood swings, and shortcomings and failures. If we had to think about it, do you reckon your pet would abandon you or love you any less if you lost a limb in an accident?
Why does the way we see a pet with disability change so much then? Humans definitely have a long journey to make towards learning how to love our animals back just as unconditionally.
We hope a lot more people open their homes to adopting specially-abled pets. If you are about to adopt a pet, we hope you do so with an open heart and do not limit yourself. If you have been parenting a special pet, know we are so proud of you.
A special thanks to all the pet-parents who spoke to us about their special babies. You are an inspiration to the rest and we hope many more people can learn from your experiences.
- Zara Omrani from Iran, mother of Shayli
- Pragati Halder from Kolkata, mother of Pari and Rani
- Rituparna Mukherjee from Kolkata, mother of Scrappy and Gullu
- Sutapa Dasgupta from Mumbai, mother of Kintu
Disclaimer: The use of words like ‘disabled’, ‘defects’, or the mention of how life as a pet-parent to a specially-abled pet may be slightly different or difficult does not mean to demotivate adoptions. Nor to desensitize or demean the condition of these animals. We believe in providing information that is true and not sugar-coated for the sake of being. Presenting an honest and real picture helps to-be pet-parents know what they are opting for, and hopefully results in lesser abandoned pets.
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