Rewarding rescues: Pet parents open homes, hearts to special needs animals

It’s no doubt that humans love animals. We even call them our “fur babies.”

Humans have domesticated animals for centuries for our enjoyment and companionship – pets serve as a loyal companion who do not judge or hurt feelings, like a fellow human might.

It’s been proven, too, that owning a pet can have a profound affect on an individual. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels and feelings of loneliness.

Additionally notes that pets can increase opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities – and with that, socialization. The statements from various health organizations accounting for the benefits of owning a pet are endless.

But what happens when the pet has health problems of its own? From missing limbs to epileptic seizures, it’s easy to forget that pets can have serious issues, too. After all, they are living creatures on this planet, just like ourselves.

But does owning a pet with issues take away the pleasure in the purpose that owning the pet served in the first place?

A callous question perhaps, but a real one nonetheless.

Disabled and ill animals are almost always one of least likely to be adopted from shelters – prospective pet owners pass them by, not wanting to own an animal that will burden them rather than bring enjoyment.

These include amputees, blind or deaf and senior pets, among others.

But to some, just because an animal is disabled and requires more care, doesn’t mean it doesn’t bring the utmost enjoyment.

Joyce Darrell, president and founder of Pets With Disabilities (, a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization based out of Prince Frederick, Md., has a lot to say about the issue. Her organization is purely devoted to finding homes for pets with disabilities, primarily dogs. Many animals that she takes care of have missing legs or are deaf and-or blind.

“The dogs are healthy besides (their) disability. People think that they’re not going to live long or bond with (a disabled) dog, but a disabled dog probably bonds more than an able bodied dog because they’re more dependent on human kindness,” she said.

She calls those who adopt disabled pets from her shelter her heroes.

“They’re mostly muts and they’re not pure bred, you know, (they’re) not gonna be in the next dog show. They’re (the adopters) just people who want to open their hearts and homes to a dog with a disability.”

Dr. April Osterhoudt, a veterinarian at Loyalsock Animal Hospital, was heartstruck when, while working on call in September, a client brought her a kitten that they had found unresponsive in an alley.

The kitten, who appeared to only be 4 weeks old, had suffered some sort of head trauma, Osterhoudt said.

“I fell in love at first sight and ended up adopting the kitten as my own,” she said.

The technicians at Osterhoudt’s office named the kitten Squintz because she couldn’t open her eyes for two days.

Squintz was blind in one eye with limited vision in the other and had balance issues, which made it difficult for her to walk.

Unfortunately, Squintz survived only three months – last week, when Osterhoudt returned from church, they found Squintz having a seizure. While they were able to get her to the hospital and stop the seizure, Squintz died moments later. Although a sad ending, Osterhoudt said “that little kitten managed to win the hearts of all who knew her” adding that “her innocence and helplessness triggered that basic instinct in all of us to care for those who need us most.”

Another pet story tugged at the hearts of local petlovers when Linden resident Danielle Weaver Kisko, like Osterhoudt, was heartstruck when she saw a cat laying on the side of the road. Rescued by Kisko and named Gracie, the cat had been hit by a car and left for dead.

After many doctors visits, nubs now replace Gracie’s front legs. And while there may be some naysayers who say she should have euthanized Gracie, most have been overwhelmingly supportive of her recovery.

“When anyone looks into Gracie’s eyes they will see a survivor,” Kisko said.

On the day of Gracie’s rescue, Oct. 11, Kisko said that Gracie rolled on her back purring, wanting to play, despite her injuries, which included two broken front legs, a fractured pelvis and an out-of-whack hip.

“She had nothing wrong with anything internal and she did all of the things that a normal kitty would do, such as eating, drinking and going to the bathroom. So to take her life because she doesn’t have front legs didn’t seem fair to me. I would never have opted to keep her alive if she was in pain or suffering in any way,” she said.

Now folks can see videos of Gracie happily prowling around as Kisko updates fans of Gracie’s recovery on Facebook.

Dr. Stephanie Daverio, a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital and author of Sun-Gazette’s monthly “Creature Comforts” column, weighed in on the issue.

“When it comes to unusual or ‘extreme’ treatments – you won’t know if it will work if you don’t try. Veterinarians are an adventuresome, innovative sort. We are problem solvers – often surprising ourselves with creative solutions to all sorts of problems animals can have.

“Since our patients won’t listen to reason, come in all shapes and sizes and temperaments and are covered in fur, feathers or scales, we are often presented with challenges to completing diagnostics, much less prescribing necessary treatments or doing surgery,” she said.

Kisko said that being the owner of a disabled animal is pretty much the same as being an owner of an animal that is not.

“Gracie has proved that just because she doesn’t have front legs, that that isn’t going to stop her,” Kisko said.

Dr. April Osterhoudt shares Kisko’s feelings about disabled animals. They both said it is a very rewarding experience.

“As a veterinarian, I work with special needs pets on an almost-daily basis. It takes a special type of person to dedicate a portion of their life to the care of a special needs pet,” Osterhoudst said, adding that, “Most of these animals would simply not survive without the help of their human counterparts. While the care of such animals can be a large timely, emotional and usually financial investment, helping a creature unable to help itself can be very rewarding.”

Kisko also said that if she saw another helpless animal on the side of the road like Gracie, she would absolutely help it.

“It’s a very rewarding feeling knowing that she (Gracie) was broken when I found her and now she’s doing great – minus two legs of course,” Kisko said, “She was just a little more work than the others in my zoo, but so worth every minute of it.”