When I speak of "special care", it can mean many things. It can be physical damage caused by cruelty. Jeffery came to Tiny Paws when he was rescued from an animal cruelty case. Most of his teeth were falling out and x-rays revealed that he had a hip dislocation and knee fracture that was never treated. His knee cap was turned inward and his hip joint found itself a new home. It was very difficult for him to walk. The injuries were too old to fix, but with pain management, he can run.
Sarah was another that required special care. She was blind. She was not born blind, but developed glaucoma, a condition that causes pressure to build inside the eyeball itself. The eye expands, much like a balloon if left untreated. It had been recommended a few years ago for Sarah's eyes to be removed, but the owner didn't follow through. So her eyes continued to expand until, much like that balloon, they ruptured. Once that occurred, she was out of pain. She came to Tiny Paws to avoid euthanasia.
Sometimes those special needs may be genetic. Elsie was born deaf. Little did we know, she also had asthma. When part of our ceiling collapsed from a small leak that had built over time, the dust and insulation triggered a severe asthmatic reaction. Thanks to our vet and a week in the hospital, she was saved. However, x-rays revealed that she has an enlarged heart as well.
Age is certainly a factor that creates a special need. Our pets live longer these days, and with longer lives come conditions that we rarely saw before. Ruby was diagnosed as few years ago with canine cognitive disorder as I mentioned in an earlier article. CCD is similar to dementia or Alzheimers. Before she was medicated, Ruby became very fearful. It seemed that she didn't recognize me. She would run under the bed and growl as if I was going to hurt her. Thankfully, medication has lessened her symptoms. She still needs a very predicable routine, particularly in the evening.
Emotional damage from past abuse can also create a special need. Bo is probably the most clear example of that. The experience of living most of his life caged in a puppy mill left him very fearful of people and also created some behavioral issues. When he first came, he wouldn't let me get near him. I have to catch him with a slip lead in order to get him to the vet, give him flea prevention, or trim his nails. Since he had to live in his own feces and urine, crate training was out of the question. Barking seemed to be his soothing behavior. I have worked to build Bo's trust in me for the last five years. He will now eat out of my hand and he's realizing that he likes to be petted. I can pick him up but he runs for the corner and crouches in the corner expecting punishment. I'll keep working with him until he expects love.
Special needs animals require a lot of medical care. Last year, our medical costs were over $8000, and unless something changes, we will exceed $10,000 this year. However, there is one other factor that I have learned is imperative in a sanctuary of special needs pets, and that is the power of pack love.
The power of pack love is not something I invented. The pack taught it to me. Dogs, in particular, need a pack. The pack is their family and gives them a sense of security and contentment. They know what is expected of them and what their role is. The younger dog learns from the older dog, or in our case, from the dogs who have lived here longer. When a new animal comes in, I step out of the equation for a while. I have learned it is much easier for the other dogs to communicate to the new arrival that they are safe here.
Goldie came to Tiny Paws not long ago. She suffered from glaucoma much like Sarah. Over the years, I've learned who is calm upon meeting another dog, and who is not as calm. Since she only had vision in the right eye, I only introduced her to the older and more handicapped dogs first. That pack I refer to as Abigail's pack. Sarah was a little concerned about meeting them, but the others sniffed her and went back to bed. I gave her a couple of days to get used to the older pack, and then moved on to the younger group I call Teddy's pack, who stay in a different bedroom. I introduced her out in the dogs' play yard one by one. Just like Abigail's pack, they were interested, said "hi" and went about their business.
In order to take all the dogs out to potty (except Sarah and Jeffery), they all have to go through the dining room (which is not used as a dining room, but more space for the dogs). The walk through that door to the dining room intimidated Goldie so much. She simply wouldn't go. So I remained at the half-door between the two rooms and called for Ruby, who was already outside. She came in and I had her go to Goldie and then turn around and head back towards me. Goldie followed her. It took repetition of this same scenario before she confidently went through the door and out with the other dogs. I didn't teach Goldie, Ruby did. I didn't give Goldie confidence, Ruby and the pack did. I just operated the door. Once the time came to have her eye removed to relieve her pain, she was not shy when she came home. She went out with the others, and it was obvious that she was now an established member of the pack.
If you've read any of my books Secrets of a Vet Tech I or II, you know about the daily howl. The daily howl was started by Teddy several years ago. Depending on the anxiety in the house, Teddy or Bo will begin howling. Then one by one the others join. It may last a short time, or it may last several minutes. When it is over, there is a calm and contentment among the entire pack. Bo, who has barked all day and is filled with anxiety, can finally rest. Those who had grappled, make peace. The daily howl bonds them as a family and it is really the voice and a demonstration of the power of pack love.