Pets with unique needs typically have a difficult time finding forever homes, as to most people the idea of a pet with extra care needs seems overwhelming and undoable. However, ask any parent of a uniquely abled pet if it’s worth it, and the answer will no doubt be a resounding, “YES!”
Meet 11 pets who are unique in their own way and living their best lives thanks to the commitment, love, and support of their guardians.
Le Mew | Amputated Front Leg
Le Mew was part of the Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS) Community Cat Program in the Coachella Valley. She was struck by a car and taken to a local veterinary hospital with life-threatening injuries to her leg. The staff at the hospital recommended euthanasia. Luckily, Le Mew was microchipped and returned to BFAS, where she received a second opinion from Dr. Shayda Ahkami, DVM.
“When I first saw her,” Dr. Ahkami says, “I knew she needed time, pain medication, and antibiotics, but also that her leg would need to be amputated. So that’s what we did, and she pulled through very easily. I fostered her while she was recovering. I kept her in a large dog crate, and my bunny kept her company. I think that helped to socialize her. She was fearful in the beginning but became more and more trusting and then I decided to adopt her.”
Dr. Ahkami named her Le Mew because she thought that she deserved a fancy French name to match her feline flair. As Le Mew recovered from her injuries, she proved to be a very agile kitty who doesn’t need a wheelchair or any other accommodations. Dr. Ahkami shares that “she is a very strong-willed kitty and enjoys caretaking among the other cats. She can jump from the floor to about 6 feet up and can squeeze into the tiniest of spaces. Her favorite friend is a cat named Greyboy whom she loves to groom. And she sleeps with me every night.”
When Le Mew was initially brought to the hospital, she was merely a number on a chart and a victim of human error. Thanks to a compassionate organization and a veterinarian who saw the enduring light in her eyes, Le Mew was given a second chance and is now thriving in her loving home.
Dr. Ahkami reminds us to “never underestimate an animal’s resilience and will to love. Special needs animals are just as deserving of a loving home as any other dog, and they always deserve a second (or third) chance.”
Aspen | Blindness
When Heather and her partner were moving into a house with a large yard, they thought it was the perfect opportunity to adopt a larger sized dog. Browsing online, Heather saw a post for a nine-week-old pitbull who was born without vision. Because of her blindness, the people behind the post were giving the puppy away for free. Heather felt she had to step in to save the tiny puppy from anyone who may have bad intentions. When she picked her up, she noticed a heart-shaped patch in her fur. She named her Aspen, after the Aspen tree, which has heart-shaped leaves.
“She has a head tilt that just melts me,” Heather says. “Aspen has been the easiest dog, and she is so gentle and sweet with my daughter. I can’t imagine my life without her. I couldn’t have asked for a better dog.”
Despite being blind since birth, her lack of vision does not slow her down. She has learned the layout of her environment and only bumps into things when she gets too excited. Heather says it seems as if she’s counted her steps to get to all the places she likes to go, and that they don’t move furniture around or add too many new items, so her pathways are always the same for her. Aspen loves going walks and being by the water, and she’s especially in love with her 2-year-old human sibling.
Aspen has been with Heather and her family for 11 years. Heather’s advice to anyone considering adopting a pet with unique needs: “Go for it if you can. Every dog deserves a loving family and a warm, safe home. But remember, taking in any pet is a long-term commitment.”
Blondie | Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD)
Blondie has a disease that affects the beak and feathers, called PBFD, or psittacine beak and feather disease. Spotted by his forever family when he was just a week old, this tiny bird has captivated hearts across the globe.
PBFD has left Blondie with very few feathers, hindering his ability to fly. This leaves him at risk of falling when he tries to fly somewhere, so he relies on his human guardian to “chauffeur” him around the house. His skin tends to become dry and flakey, and without feathers, he gets cold easily. In the beginning, his family tried to fit him with tiny clothes, but he hated it, so they found a solution he could tolerate: regular moisturizing treatments with coconut oil, a heating pad set on low, and his favorite plushie to keep him warm and comfortable.
Despite his tiny stature, Blondie loves to play, loves attention and praise, and will shake a toy with a bell on it if he’s bored and needs stimulation. He is extremely curious and wants to investigate everything people are doing around the house, so every day is full of adventure for him.
To those considering adopting a pet with special needs, Isabella says, don’t get discouraged. The journey may have ups and downs as you’re learning about each other. She adds, “It’s okay to be afraid, nervous, and even helpless at times. But don’t let the discouragement affect you. Something that helped me was really connecting with Blondie. Keep an open heart, love them unconditionally, and learn to understand their body language or something that they do that may give you a clue of when they’re comfortable with something or not.”
“Blondie is a unique parrot; he has a very energetic and fun personality. I’ve had Blondie since the start of my adolescence. I’ve learned from him that we have to be resilient, and that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. He helps me a lot and cheers me up when I need it the most. Even though he’s literally clueless about all of this, Blondie is, and will always be, one of the best things that has ever happened to me.“
Follow Blondie on Instagram @blondie_thelovebird.
Chico | Diabetes and Vision Loss
Gloria met Chico, a stunning German shepherd, while volunteering at the Friends of Orange Cove Animal Shelter (FOCAS). The shelter asked her to give him a name, so she chose Chico. After one introductory walk, the two formed an immediate bond, and she decided to foster him. Two months later, she adopted him.
After two years, Chico began urinating in the house, which was a very rare occurrence. He was also drinking a lot more water than usual, so she took him to the vet, where he was diagnosed with diabetes. Looking for support and information on what to do to help Chico, she joined the Facebook Group, Canine Diabetes Support and Information, and credits them for helping her navigate the landscape of care.
Chico is on insulin shots twice a day, 12 hours apart after feeding. One year after his diagnosis, he developed cataracts and lost his vision. For that, he gets eye drops twice a day. Gloria says they take it one day at time. After losing his vision, Gloria had to retrain him how to go on walks and hikes, something he loves to do. He also loves to snuggle, get belly rubs, go on car rides, and occasionally mark his territory.
“He’s a gentle giant who has brought me and lots of others so much happiness. We don’t know what the future brings—we just enjoy each day to the fullest.”
Gloria noticed that when she took Chico out, people wanted to pet him, and he always made someone smile. To document his “smile therapy,” she began an Instagram page and shares a photo of Chico and who he meets each day. In a year and half, she has documented 222 photos of smiles!
As for adopting special needs pets, Gloria says, “It’s lots of work, but if your heart is willing to do it, go for it. It takes teamwork and patience, and your life will revolve around them, but it is worth it.”
Follow Chico on Instagram @chico_rescue_dog_gs.
Zebedee Cosmo X (“Z”) | Cerebellar Hypoplasia
Z was surrendered to Road Dogs Rescue by a breeder when he was 4 weeks old. He was falling behind developmentally compared to his siblings. He was diagnosed with severe cerebellar hypoplasia and had a poor prognosis when it came to his ability to walk or stand on his own. Lucky for him, he immediately went into a wonderful foster home that would become his forever home.
Cerebellar hypoplasia is a neurological disorder where the cerebellum—the part of the brain that in responsible for fine motor skills, balance, and coordination—fails to develop. When Heide welcomed Z in their home their main focus was to make sure he could live his best life. Because of his cerebellar hypoplasia, Z needs assistance with eating, going to the bathroom, and all things in-between while he was gaining strength to hold up his head and put weight on his front legs. His foster parents also got him into physical therapy and Acuscope sessions which helped tremendously. “We felt like proud parents every time he reached a milestone.”
Since cerebellar hypoplasia affects Z’s spacial awareness, balance and coordination, he does require extra care. He uses a special feeder they found on Etsy that supports his whole body; most of his toys are silent, as he is easily startled by loud, high-pitched sounds; and he has his own room in the main living space so that he can lounge and play safely when his parents can’t keep all their attention on him. When it’s time to potty, he has a distinctive meow that lets his parents know it’s time to go. They then carry him to his litter box so he can do his business.
Knowing that cerebellar hypoplasia cats will thrive when they have a buddy, Heide and her family adopted a kitty named Jerry to keep Z company, and they’re great friends. Heide says the current goal is to teach Z how to use a wheelchair so he can be more mobile on his own. He’s not thrilled with the concept just yet, but they are giving him all the time he needs.
Some of Z’s favorite things to do are snuggling with his humans and walking around using the furniture to hold him up. His mom says he’s quite the romantic too, gazing at you with love and affection and he loves giving love bites and snuggles.
Heide says, “Welcoming a pet with special needs can feel overwhelming at first. It’s all about setting a routine and being consistent. Cats or dogs with cerebellar hypoplasia can and do live wonderful, fulfilling lives, and adopting Z has certainly changed ours for the better. He has taught us how to care, treat, learn, and love him in the way he needs us to. Z has created such beautiful and unique bonds with us and his fur siblings. It’s rewarding in a very selfless way, and we are proud to be Z’s parents.”
Fun Fact: Zeebedee means Gift from God, Cosmo is a Sienfeld reference, and X was added because when he was a kitten, he looked like an alien!
Follow Z on Instagram @wilhelminawillowpuff
Janice | Deafness
When their beloved dog Winnie passed away, the Fallon family knew they wanted to give another dog a home. They specifically wanted to find a dog who was having a hard time finding their forever family. They visited one of their favorite rescue organizations online called One Tail at a Time and saw Janice.
Janice is a deaf and visually impaired bull terrier who is originally from Hawaii, where she was used for breeding and lived as a hunting dog. It is unknown if she was abandoned by hunters/breeders or if she wandered off, but she ultimately landed in the Kauai Humane Society. A rescue in Portland scooped her up and brought her to the mainland in 2019.
Originally Janice was adopted by a family who was very busy and did not have time for a dog. They left Janice home alone a lot, where she wasn’t allowed to sit on the sofa and didn’t get much love and affection. The family returned Janice to the rescue. For the next 6 months, Janice moved around to several foster homes, where she was allowed to do all the dog things, and she was happy. But she wanted and needed her own home.
Around this time, COVID-19 hit, and the rescue that had Janice received 900 applications to adopt a dog … but none of the applicants were suitable for Janice. That’s when the Fallon family spotted her online and decided they needed to meet her. Janice and the Fallons had several meet-and-greet visits to make sure it was the right fit, and the entire family fell in love with Janice, so they made it official with an adoption. After waiting an entire year, Janice finally had a home!
Because of her hearing loss and traumatic background, Janice was (and still is) anxious, so when she got to her new home with the Fallons she expressed that anxiety by chewing on everything she could find, including an iPhone. She learned how to open the freezer to get food. She tipped over trash cans and knocked over the Christmas tree, but the Fallons didn’t mind. Taking care of Janice and meeting her needs became a family effort, and everyone was dedicated to her care and daily needs. During her foster journey, a trainer taught Janice hand signals and tapping, so she does know basic commands.
“She needs a lot more love, attention, and reassurance than most dogs, and we are committed to giving her the time and affection she needs. She is easily startled and can be fearfully reactive to other dogs. We are working on Janice making more canine friends, but it is difficult for her because of her sensory deficiencies.”
Janice gets the zoomies when she’s excited and loves to go on walks at the beach and feel the waves washing over her. Sometimes she’ll take a very slow walk that her family calls a “sniffari,” and she enjoys riding in her dog stroller and taking naps with her human family. While being out and about is fun for Janice, she isn’t a big fan of surprise meets or interactions with other dogs. So, in an effort to help Janice to make canine friends, her family found a group of dogs, all rescues, that understand the need for slow introductions and that give her the space she needs.
“We feel such a connection to Janice and are so attuned to her needs— the meanings of different barks and howls, etc.—that we almost forget she has sensory disabilities. Because of the deep relationship that has grown between our family and Janice and the connections we have made with other dog owners dealing with similar issues, I highly recommend bringing a special needs dog into your life! Having said that, a dog like Janice requires time, patience, and an understanding that progress may not be linear. And a sense of humor helps for sure! Her limitations mean we’ve got limitations on our own lives too—like not being able to leave her for long periods and having to avoid other dogs because she can be reactive. But we feel our lives have been made richer from the heart-toheart connection we have with her. People often say that deaf dogs ‘hear with their hearts’—I think she teaches everyone she meets to do the same.”
Follow Janice on Instagram @janice_the_bull_terrier
Huna Pono | Hydrocephalus
When Jamie at Present Moment Rescue was asked to pick up a pair of medical needs bulldogs for partner rescue NorCal Bully Breed, she didn’t hesitate. One dog had hydrocephalus, and the other had a possible liver shunt. As soon as she got them home and saw the pair up close, she felt an instant connection with the dog now named Huna Pono, she says, “I knew my late dog Monty had been reincarnated back to us.”
The instant bond prompted her and her husband to adopt him. Giving him a meaningful name was important, and so they selected Huna (ancient wisdom) and Pono (translates to make right or be congruent in yourself). Together his name means to make right the ancient wisdom.
Huna has hydrocephalus—a neurological disorder also referred to as water on the brain. Common symptoms include a domed head appearance, circling, head pressing, and others depending on the severity of the disorder. Huna’s hydrocephalus symptoms are mild, but his family creates a specific environment to support him, and all the hydros in the rescue. This includes big open spaces, minimal confinement, and lots of enrichment toys, tools and activities.
Jamie shares, “Utilizing full-spectrum care combining eastern, western, energetic and holistic practices has been instrumental in developing our unique hydrocephalus care protocol. It includes traditional treatments and medications, acupuncture, sound healing, energy healing, aromatherapy, ozone therapy, crystal healing, PEMF and photon light therapy, nutrition, CBD, and more.”
Huna’s favorite activities include eating, playing with his foster sister Gigi, and melting his parents’ hearts with his squishy, velvet puddle body and his big eyes that look out at the world in amazement.
Jamie says, “The thing I love most about hydros is how unique each hydro journey is. They are so individual, magical, and precious. Water baby unicorns. They have an incredibly special and present energy to them. A common term in western medicine refers to their mentation as ‘dull.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. They are incredibly mindful beings—witnessing them think, process, and navigate life is a miracle in itself to experience.”
To anyone who is considering adopting a dog with hydrocephalus, she says “treat each day as a gift. With hydro, there are no guarantees in either direction as far as life expectancy goes, so take it day by day and fill each day with as much love as possible.”
Follow Present Moment Rescue @presentmomentrescue
Emmer Stone | FIV+
Sometimes animals choose their guardians, and that is the case of two cats named Emmer Stone and Paprika. The duo showed up on Valerie’s porch looking for food, which she provided. Emmer was clearly a kitten, and Valerie theorized that Paprika was his mom. After about a month of feeding them, she decided to officially adopt them and brought them into her home.
Knowing they both needed to be spayed and neutered, she took them to the vet right away. The appointment included all the regular testing, including feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). When Emmer’s FIV test came back positive, Valerie said it felt like a punch in the gut. “At the time, I did not know anything about FIV and feared the worst—that it was a death sentence. I was also worried because we have other cats in our household, and although I was keeping Emmer and Paprika separated until everyone got to know each other, I was terrified I had infected the other cats.”
Valerie dove into researching FIV and living with FIV+ cats to learn as much as she could so she could support Emmer. She says the Instagram cat community really helped her and through her research she learned several things: FIV is not a death sentence and is not transmissible to humans. While FIV is transmissible between cats, it is primarily transmitted through very DEEP bite wounds but not through shared bowls or toys. FIV+ cats have a compromised immune system, so any minor signs of illness should be addressed right away. And the best news—it’s possible for FIV+ and non-infected cats to live together.
Learning this was a huge relief, as Valerie was already in love with Emmer, saying that his little face and smile melts her heart every day. And that he loves to spend time burrowing and cuddling in her sweatshirt or under a blanket. He also loves his catnip banana … which he destroyed.
“Emmer has truly brought so much joy to our household. I’ve never met a cat quite as loving or cuddly as him—it’s really like he is thanking us for taking him in and giving him food, love, and a warm place to lay his head.”
To those considering adopting an FIV+ cat, she says “Go for it! FIV+ cats deserve love, kindness and safe homes too! They have so much love to give and require very little extra care, but yet get overlooked because of the stigma and misinformation associated with an FIV+ diagnosis. I can’t imagine my life without my little snuggle buddy Emmer!”
Fun Fact: Emmer’s full name is Emmer Stone, based on a viral cat meme!
Follow Emmer Stone and family @five_feline_familiars
Walter | MPS Type VI
Gabi was at the Carson Animal Shelter rescuing a dog when the shelter staff asked her to come take a look at another dog. That dog was Walter, a tiny miniature pincher with an underbite and long floppy legs. She fell for him immediately, but Gabi soon discovered that Walter had a very rare lysosomal storage disorder called mucopolysaccharidosis, also known as MPS type VI. Sadly, it is a terminal genetic disorder that causes multiple health issues and a shortened life expectancy.
Care for MPS dogs is intensive. Walter had to be hand fed and couldn’t walk or stand on his own, so Gabi had to be his support for mobility and exercise. But giving Walter his best life was her priority, and she says he loved being cuddly and had a funny little bark that he would use to “talk” to people.
Meeting and adopting Walter is what Gabi credits to starting her journey with MPS dogs and other dogs with special needs. After Walter passed, she welcomed two more MPS dogs into her home, Winslow and Benjamin.
Roo | Born with Two Legs
Coincidentally, 8 years after adopting Walter, Gabi met Roo (formerly Sparkles) at the Carson Animal Shelter. Roo is a two-legged Chihuahua who was found on the streets and was taken into the shelter. She wasn’t doing very well at her original foster home, and when Gabi got an email plea to help find her a suitable foster, she volunteered to take her in.
It didn’t take long for Gabi and her family to fall in love with Roo, so they made it official and adopted her. Roo hops around like a little kangaroo and likes to stand on her hind legs. She needs carpet to get around, so there are a lot of mats and throw rugs around to give her full access to her home. Roo loves to play with her toys and also with her cat friend, Poppy.
Gabi tells people, “Being different is beautiful, and just because a pet may look a little different or have a special need, it doesn’t make them any less worthy of a loving forever home.”
Follow Walter and Roo on Instagram @walterakawalnut
Champion | Tripod
Joyce spotted Champion (formerly named Mi-Rae) on Instagram through @adoptkoreandogs and fell in love with his happy personality right away. She connected with the Korean organization called HDS Rescue who works with a local Bay Area rescue called Love & Second Chances. After learning all she could about Champion and making sure he would be a good fit for her lifestyle, she moved forward with the adoption. Due to the pandemic, it took about 3 months for Champion to get to her home, but she says the wait was worth it.
Champion lost his leg after being found in a bear trap in Korea. He was rescued in 2019 but the leg was unable to be saved. He was in recovery for nearly 2 years before being adopted by Joyce. His absolute favorite thing to do is go on hikes. Joyce says that even with only three legs, he’s always zooming around her and taking in the outdoors. He also has a “go outside” dance that is adorable. When they aren’t being active, Champion is pretty low energy, lounging around his home. Joyce makes sure he eats a quality diet and takes supplements and vitamins to support his joints and overall well-being.
To anyone who is considering welcoming a tripod pet into their family, she says, “Please consider it! They are so loving, loyal, and appreciative of the life you can provide for them. Champy is the best dog ever! He is my daily reminder that everything will be okay. His gentle soul and resilient nature is inspiring to me and everyone who meets him, and I cannot imagine my life without him!”
Follow Champion on Instagram @champsthetripawd