Archive for February, 2009

Geronimo’s Revenge

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

by Lisa Stahr

 

     Ok, I’ll be the first to admit, it isn’t all sunshine and bluebirds living with a special needs pet.  Sometimes it’s frustrating, heartbreaking, maddening, or, like the other day, just plain gross.

     It was late in the evening and I had gotten up from my reading to get a drink of water from the kitchen.   As I walked through the dining room, Geronimo, our little champagne tabby with partially paralyzed back legs, went scooting by, darting under the table just in front of me.  I didn’t think much of it—he flies around the house like that a lot of times, especially when he’s in one of his “Spawn of Satan” moods and is terrorizing the other cats.  But mid-stride, I caught a whiff of something poopy and immediately started to look around.  Although G usually poops when I express his bladder, sometimes he gets off schedule and goes whenever he has to—and wherever he has to, unfortunately.  Sure enough, he’d had a bowel movement in the entry hall and had managed to drag himself through it.  (Why that cat has to reverse over his own poops, I’ll never understand.  Wouldn’t you think he’d want to get away from it?)  Anyway, there was a “snail trail” of poop that started in the entry hall and went down the hallway, into the living room, and then the dining room.  G was running away from me, it turned out, because he knew he’d pooped and he knew I’d soon be grabbing him to clean him up. 

     And he was right.

     After calling to my husband to keep the dog in the library with him (all too often she “helps” by cleaning up the poop before I can get to it), I grabbed G and made a beeline for the kitchen sink.  Pretty much the whole length of his tail was smeared with icky, gooey, watery poop.  It was gross, but the rest of him was pretty clean, which was good news—usually he gets it all over his back legs, too.

     “Hey, not too bad,” I thought as we headed for the sink.  But G wasn’t happy with the prospect of even a quick “tail” bath and he started meowing and squirming in my hands.  Because of his partial paralysis, he can’t move his tail very well, so it hung limply as he fussed.  

     “Shh, you’re ok,” I told him.  “I’m just going to rinse you off.”

     But G wanted no part of it.  He squirmed.  He mewed.  And in a super-feline fit of pique, he flicked his icky, gooey, poopy tail straight up in the air and spattered my face and my hair with watery poop.  

     I was so grossed out, I wanted to scream, but I didn’t say a word (I had poop on my lips, I didn’t dare say anything!).  I just grabbed a handful of paper towels and wiped myself off as quick as I could, then with my lips pursed so tight they looked like a cat’s butt, I washed that cat off and put him back down on the floor before you could say “OhmygodIhavecatshitallovermyface!” 
     It was truly one the most disgusting moments in my life.  In fact, it still grosses me out to think about it.  But that’s what happens when you live with a disabled cat.  There are good times and there are bad times.  And once in awhile, there are times that just make you want to throw up.  

Geronimo's Revenge

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

by Lisa Stahr

 

     Ok, I’ll be the first to admit, it isn’t all sunshine and bluebirds living with a special needs pet.  Sometimes it’s frustrating, heartbreaking, maddening, or, like the other day, just plain gross.

     It was late in the evening and I had gotten up from my reading to get a drink of water from the kitchen.   As I walked through the dining room, Geronimo, our little champagne tabby with partially paralyzed back legs, went scooting by, darting under the table just in front of me.  I didn’t think much of it—he flies around the house like that a lot of times, especially when he’s in one of his “Spawn of Satan” moods and is terrorizing the other cats.  But mid-stride, I caught a whiff of something poopy and immediately started to look around.  Although G usually poops when I express his bladder, sometimes he gets off schedule and goes whenever he has to—and wherever he has to, unfortunately.  Sure enough, he’d had a bowel movement in the entry hall and had managed to drag himself through it.  (Why that cat has to reverse over his own poops, I’ll never understand.  Wouldn’t you think he’d want to get away from it?)  Anyway, there was a “snail trail” of poop that started in the entry hall and went down the hallway, into the living room, and then the dining room.  G was running away from me, it turned out, because he knew he’d pooped and he knew I’d soon be grabbing him to clean him up. 

     And he was right.

     After calling to my husband to keep the dog in the library with him (all too often she “helps” by cleaning up the poop before I can get to it), I grabbed G and made a beeline for the kitchen sink.  Pretty much the whole length of his tail was smeared with icky, gooey, watery poop.  It was gross, but the rest of him was pretty clean, which was good news—usually he gets it all over his back legs, too.

     “Hey, not too bad,” I thought as we headed for the sink.  But G wasn’t happy with the prospect of even a quick “tail” bath and he started meowing and squirming in my hands.  Because of his partial paralysis, he can’t move his tail very well, so it hung limply as he fussed.  

     “Shh, you’re ok,” I told him.  “I’m just going to rinse you off.”

     But G wanted no part of it.  He squirmed.  He mewed.  And in a super-feline fit of pique, he flicked his icky, gooey, poopy tail straight up in the air and spattered my face and my hair with watery poop.  

     I was so grossed out, I wanted to scream, but I didn’t say a word (I had poop on my lips, I didn’t dare say anything!).  I just grabbed a handful of paper towels and wiped myself off as quick as I could, then with my lips pursed so tight they looked like a cat’s butt, I washed that cat off and put him back down on the floor before you could say “OhmygodIhavecatshitallovermyface!” 
     It was truly one the most disgusting moments in my life.  In fact, it still grosses me out to think about it.  But that’s what happens when you live with a disabled cat.  There are good times and there are bad times.  And once in awhile, there are times that just make you want to throw up.  

Why Do Pets Need Rehab Therapy?

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

 

by Lisa Stahr of Scout’s House

 

     At Scout’s House, we get asked all the time why should pets get physical rehabilitation therapy*.  And the answer is simple:  Because it can improve your pet’s quality of life.

     If you’ve ever had physical therapy for an injury, you can understand the benefits of rehab therapy for dogs and cats.  But let me give you three quick reasons your pet could benefit from physical rehabilitation therapy:

 

1)  Rehab therapy improves outcomes and speeds recovery, particularly for post-operative, neurological, and trauma patients

     Animals recovering from trauma or surgery will generally have a more rapid and more complete recovery with physical rehabilitation therapy.  In fact, studies have shown that dogs recover more quickly and more effectively from certain surgeries—TPLOs, for example—with rehab therapy than without.  And physical therapy is especially well-documented in improving outcomes in humans affected by many of the same conditions dogs suffer from, such as ACL rupture repair, spinal surgery, and neurological injury.

     So, how can rehab make a difference?

     In the case of a tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) recovery, at Scout’s House we’d take the animal through a series of activities and exercises designed to:

            • strengthen specific muscles around the joint to increase its dynamic stability;

            • regain functional range of motion at that specific joint, as well as in those joints further up the kinetic chain;

            • and, while following all the appropriate weight-bearing restrictions, we promote “reuse” of the limb, often earlier than the animal would choose to resume weight bearing on its own.

 

2)  Rehab therapy helps animals live more comfortable and more functional lives

     It’s especially helpful with ill and aging patients, as well as those with chronic or progressive conditions.  Just as with a human who’s suffered a stroke or a spinal cord injury, rehab won’t “fix” the source of some problems (such as permanent injury to the brain or spinal cord), but it can help to improve the quality of life by strengthening and re-educating the abilities the patient still has. 

 

3)  Rehab therapy helps to prevent future problems

     Through the exercises and activities that rehab therapy introduces, we can reduce—or even prevent—compensations that could cause stress up the kinetic chain and lead to future injuries.  Active exercise, particularly, is critical because it keeps muscles loose and functioning correctly.   

 

* In California, where Scout’s House is located, “physical therapy” is a protected term, meaning it can only be used to describe the work done with humans.  So we use the term “physical rehabilitation therapy”or “rehab therapy” when talking about the work we do with animals. 

How to Choose A Rehabilitation Therapy Center for Your Pet

Monday, February 9th, 2009

by Lisa Stahr

Physical rehabilitation therapy is a new branch of veterinary medicine—but one that’s growing very quickly. So while there may only be one or two rehab centers in your area right now, you can bet there’ll be more in the future.  How, then, do you choose the right rehab center for you and your pet?

As with any health care decision, you must think seriously about a number of factors when choosing a rehab center for your pet, including the quality of care you expect your pet to receive, the variety of services and modalities being offered, and the training and expertise of the health care professionals who will provide that care.

Quality of Care

Many animal owners today expect the same level of health care for their pets as they do for themselves.  That means they want access to the latest research and technologies, state-of-the-art equipment and modalities, highly trained health care professionals, and significant support and education.

From your first call to a rehab center, you should get an idea of the level of care provided there.  Does the person answering the phone take time to ask about your pet’s condition?  Is she willing to answer your questions about rehab in general and that clinic in particular?  Does she explain how the facility operates?  Have they treated other animals with your pet’s condition?
You’ll also want to find out if a veterinarian at the rehab center will perform an initial examination on your pet before beginning therapy.  In many states, veterinarians are required by law to do an initial examination on every animal they see, even for rehab.  And while your pet has probably seen many veterinarians by this point, it’s important that the rehab center’s veterinarian perform an exam as well, not only to help determine an appropriate treatment plan for your pet, but also to avoid injuring (or reinjuring) him during therapy.

A rehab exam should differ significantly from the examination your regular veterinarian performed to diagnose your pet’s condition.  At Scout’s House, for example, we work from your veterinarian’s diagnosis and use our initial exam to determine your pet’s rehabilitation potential.  Our exam may include a spinal mobility assessment, a neurological assessment, measurements of joint range of motion to see how well your pet’s joints move, and measurements of muscle mass to determine if muscle atrophy has occurred.  We may also videotape your pet walking to later analyze her gait, and we talk with you about your goals for your pet.  Altogether, this information helps us to create a personalized treatment plan for your dog or cat in which we outline the recommended treatment techniques and modalities and frequency of visits.

Variety of Modalities

At some rehab centers, hydrotherapy—often performed in an underwater treadmill specially designed for dogs—is the only modality offered.  A critical tool in any rehabilitation program, hydrotherapy allows animals to exercise safely in a low-impact and highly supportive environment. Yet for many pets, hydrotherapy alone can’t effectively address all of their rehabilitative needs.   “We don’t go to the gym and use only one piece of equipment and rehabbing pets shouldn’t either,” explains Scout’s House’s Director of Rehab Therapy Krista Niebaum, MPT, CCRT. “Exercise in the hydrotreadmill alone cannot strengthen every muscle in a four-legged animal.”

If you want your pet to receive the highest level of care, you’ll need to find a rehab center that offers a variety of modalities and treatment techniques and a staff that’s qualified to implement them.  At Scout’s House, in addition to hydrotherapy, we offer neuromuscular electrical stimulation, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, low-level laser therapy, acupuncture, veterinary orthopedic manipulation, therapeutic exercise, manual therapy, massage therapy, and heat and cold therapy.  And we’re adding more options regularly.

“Having a variety of modalities and treatment techniques to offer our patients allows us to truly individualize our treatments based on each pet’s therapeutic needs,” says Krista. “For example, dogs that have weakness due to a neurological injury may benefit from electrical stimulation of key muscles to help maintain their strength and ‘jump start’ their recovery.  For pets with significant arthritis, it may be difficult for them to exercise due to pain; a series of treatments with the pulsed electromagnetic field unit may provide some relief, as well as improve the status of their joint surfaces.”

Provider Training

A variety of modalities and techniques are the signs of a comprehensive rehab center, but having a staff that’s trained to implement them is equally critical.  Currently, California is determining the regulations for veterinary rehabilitation therapy, which means that right now almost anyone can provide rehabilitative care.  To protect your pet, look for a rehab center that has a licensed veterinarian on site so that a medical emergency can be dealt with immediately.  But be aware that even if there is a veterinarian on site, that person may not be directly involved with the rehabilitation program, leaving that responsibility instead to a licensed Physical Therapist (PT) or Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT).

The difference between a PT and an RVT is one of education and training.   A PT, although licensed to treat only humans in some states, must complete at least six years of higher education, receiving a Master’s degree or higher from an accredited college or university, before taking the State Boards to become licensed to practice physical therapy.  An RVT must take classes or complete a two-year program at an accredited community college and pass the State Boards to become licensed.

Dr. Jan Lowery, Supervising Veterinarian at Scout’s House, believes PTs bring a unique—and critical—skill set to the rehab therapy equation. “Physical therapists and veterinarians are trained to think differently,” she explains. “As veterinarians, we’re trained to recognize clinical signs and interpret data to reach a diagnosis. But PTs are trained to think in terms of movement—what facilitates it and what hinders it, what enables it and what interferes with it.”  The body of knowledge Physical Therapists bring to this discipline is invaluable, she adds.  “Trying to run a rehab center without a Physical Therapist is like trying to run a veterinary hospital without a veterinarian.”

Most of the training a Physical Therapist receives is applicable to four-legged patients.  Not only do PTs study such critical areas as kinesiology, orthopedic rehabilitation, neurological rehabilitation, wound management, and geriatric rehab, but they also learn how to correctly use all of the physical therapy modalities, such as e-stim and hydrotherapy, and manual therapy techniques, including joint mobilizations, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, and neurodevelopmental technique.

Whether it’s a veterinarian, a Physical Therapist, or a Registered Veterinary Technician overseeing the therapy program, be sure that person has been certified in canine rehabilitation by either the Canine Rehab Institute in Florida or by Northeast Seminar’s program offered at the University of Tennessee. Both programs offer comprehensive training in the art and science of canine rehabilitation therapy. You’ll know if your therapist has been certified if she lists “Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist” (CCRT), “Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner” (CCRP), or “Certified Canine Rehabilitation Assistant” (CCRA) after her name.


Products for Disabled Pets

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

by Lisa Stahr

 

     When I adopted Bear, my Manx cat, I learned very quickly about the challenges of living with an incontinent pet. 

     Bear was the cutest little black-and-white, tailless Manx you’d ever want to see.  But she leaked urine all the time: when she slept, when she walked, when she ran around the house.  Most people thought I was crazy to “put up” with that, but I loved Bear and wasn’t about to give her up.  Besides, if I—someone who professed to love animals more than anything—wouldn’t keep her, who would?  It’s not like shelters see a big demand for cats who leak. 

     So I just learned to deal with it.  Not that it wouldn’t have been nice to have had some help, but that was back in the early 80s, long before products for disabled pets existed.  So, instead, I relied on my washing machine and a mountain of old towels to cope. 

     Today, there are all sorts of products out there for special needs pets like Bear, but unless you’ve lived for awhile with a pet who has those kinds of unique requirements, it’s unlikely you’d know about them.  At Scout’s House, our rehabilitation therapy, boarding, and daycare center for special needs animals, new clients often arrive for their first visit feeling overwhelmed about how to care for their pet, particularly when the dog or cat has recently suffered some sort of medical emergency that’s affected its mobility or function.  Disk ruptures, FCEs, car accidents, these are just a few of the more common events that can change a pet’s life—and the owner’s—in an instant.  As someone who’s had many special needs pets, including Bear and Scout, the dog I named our facility after, I understand how they feel.  It’s like you’ve been thrown down the rabbit hole and you suddenly find yourself in a strange, new world, not knowing what to do or where to turn.

     That’s why we carry so many products for special needs pets at Scout’s House.  We understand what a difference disposable diapers or a good harness with a handle can make in the life of a disabled pet—and in the life of the person who loves him.  We’ve seen how the right booties can keep a dog who drags her back feet from scraping her knuckles raw and how a simple thing like a rear harness can save an owner’s back.  We’ve learned about these products any number of ways:  through continuing education, veterinarians, surgeons, Internet searches, catalogues, sales reps, online discussion groups for animal rehab professionals, and talks with clients.  And we’ve tried these products out ourselves, evaluating how well they fit, protect, clean, absorb, or last. 

     We consider it our responsibility to learn as much as we can about these products—and to find out about all the new ones coming on the market everyday:  things that help disabled pets be more mobile or that make incontinence easier to deal with, or products that help animals get better traction as they walk or just be more comfortable. 

     So if you have a pet whose rear legs don’t work like they used to or who’s incontinent like Bear was or who has any other issue that compromises his or her functionality, don’t despair.  There are many wonderful products out there that can help you—and your pet—live more comfortable and more functional lives.  And everyday there are more and more places like Scout’s House that are dedicated to helping you find them. 

Dog Treats or Calorie Bombs? (Why is My Dog Fat?)

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

by Sandy Gregory, M Ed, RVT, CCRA

 

 

     There’s an obesity epidemic in America and it’s not just with humans.  Veterinarians are seeing many more dogs these days with serious weight problems–problems that can lead to many of the same diseases that obese humans face, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. 

     Of course, we don’t mean to make our dogs fat–and often we’re not even aware that those cute little treats we give them are part of the problem.  But when you start thinking about your dog’s diet as you would about your own, you realize that every dog needs a certain number of calories everyday, just like we do.  And if you exceed that number on a regular basis, your on your way to having one pudgy poodle. 

     Consider this:  A 23-lb. dog who isn’t especially active needs about 386 calories a day to maintain his weight.  Similarly, a 44-lb. dog needs 670 calories to maintain her weight, and a 70-lb. dog needs around 1024 calories. 

     Now, take a look at the calorie content of some popular dog treats and you can see just how easy it is for your dog to go from fit to fat:

 

Dog Treat                                                                  Calories per piece

 

Alpo® Biscuits                                                                     30

Alpo® Chew-eez® Chew Strips                                        60

Beggin Strips® Dog Snacks                                                40

Bonz® Dog Snack (small)                                                   43

Bonz® Dog Snack (medium)                                              67

Bonz® Dog Snack (large)                                                    89

Chew-rific™ Dog Biscuits                                                  31

Milk-Bone Dog Biscuits (small)                                         20

Milk-Bone Dog Biscuits (medium)                                   40

Milk-Bone Dog Biscuits (large)                                       115

New Greenies® (Teenie™)                                                25

New Greenies® (Petite)                                                      54

New Greenies® (Regular)                                                  90

New Greenies® (Large)                                                    144

New Greenies® (Jumbo)                                                   270

Purina ONE® Total Nutrition Flavor Biscuits                37

Purina® Beggin’® Wraps                                                   68

Pro Plan® Dog Treats                                                         35

 

     The trick isn’t eliminating dog treats entirely, it’s in being judicious with the higher calorie treats–or in finding a lower calorie alternative.  Below are listed a few healthy treats that aren’t so high in calories. 

     And remember, what your dog craves most of all is your attention.  A few minutes focused just on him is the healthiest alternative of all.

 

Healthy Alternative Treats

 

Charlee Bear® Dog Treat                                                      3

Apple slice (1/6 of one medium apple)                           13

Carrot (1 baby)                                                                        6

Chicken (1/2 oz. lean)                                                         26

Cottage cheese (1 oz.)                                                          30

Green beans (1/4 cup)                                                          9

Living with an Older or Disabled Pet

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

by Lisa Stahr

 

     There are many considerations to be taken into account when living with a dog or cat who’s getting on in years, who’s recovering from injury or surgery, or who’s living with a chronic disease, such as arthritis, hip or elbow dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy, or worse.  But the there are a number of things you can do to help your pet live more comfortably.

 

Get a Grip

      Your first step should be to modify your home environment to make it easier for your pet to get around.  If your dog has difficulty walking, particularly on hard surfaces such as tile or hardwood floors, put down area rugs in the places where he normally walks.  Rubber-backed rugs are best for this, but you can use any rug—just make sure you tack it down with double-sided carpet tape or use rubber carpet mesh underneath to keep it from sliding when your pet walks on it.  You might also consider using a non-slip spray on your dog’s paws (one such product, called Show Foot, was designed to keep show dogs from slipping in the ring).  Or try rubber-soled dog booties for increased traction.  Your pet make need some time to get used to wearing boots, but once he does, he’ll thank you for the extra grip.

 

Ramp Up

      If your dog or cat has decreased coordination, she may also have a hard time negotiating elevation changes, such as stairs, furniture, or uneven surfaces in the yard.  Use a baby gate to block off access to these areas or only allow her into the areas when someone’s available to supervise her.  You should also consider getting a small ramp or set of stairs to make it easier for her to get up on—and off—the furniture.  (If your pet has a hard time negotiating stairs, you can put a ramp over the steps to make the climb easier.)   

     There are also larger ramps made to help dogs get in and out of cars more easily; some are folding, some telescoping—use whichever kind works best for you and your pet—but consider how high your car is when buying.  Some ramps are short and meant to be used only in the front passenger side door (doors in the back don’t open far enough to accommodate it).  These ramps are also good for use with furniture in the house.  For most cars, though, a ramp 72” long when extended works best, but for a big SUV or for dogs who need a gentler incline, consider getting a ramp that’s 83” long.  Please note: if your dog needs a ramp or stairs, we recommend that she wear a harness so that you can keep a hand on her while she’s walking the ramp or stair; a harness will give you a handle to hang onto and it’s much safer than holding onto her collar. 

 

Give Him a Hand

     In addition to using a harness with a handle, you might also consider a rear harness if your dog or cat needs help getting up from a sit or down position or is paralyzed in the rear legs.  These rear harnesses fit your pet like pants and have two straps that you can use to pull your pet up with—or to hold onto to keep him stable when he walks.  These specialized harnesses can be lifesavers for pets with weak or paralyzed rear legs—and back savers for their owners.

     For older pets and for those with balance or neck issues, it can be difficult to bend down to the floor to eat or drink, so get a raised feeder to put the food and water bowls up at higher levels.  And for pets who can no longer stand to eat, place non-skid rubber mesh under their food and water bowls on the floor so that they don’t skid around while your pet’s trying to eat.  And remember, every extra pound of body weight can make it even more difficult for any pet—dog, cat, or otherwise—to move, so don’t overindulge your pet with cookies and treats; keeping him at his ideal body weight is a much greater kindness than any treat could ever be. 

 

Dealing with Leaks

       Incontinence can be a real problem for older pets or those with special needs, so if your dog or cat has incontinence issues, consider disposable or washable diapers or male diaper wraps to catch accidental drips and plops.  Absorptive training pads, used for housebreaking puppies, can be real timesavers if your pet leaks urine when she sleeps or if you have to manually express her bladder.  Just put one or two under her wherever she sleeps or when expressing to catch the urine.  You might also want to have some waterless shampoo on hand to clean her up quickly if she gets urine on her skin or fur.  And to avoid urine scald, a rash that occurs when urine stays on a pet’s skin too long, use an anti-infective, anti-bacterial moisture barrier like Barricare to add a protective layer between the urine and her skin. 

     There’s also a special bedding pad you can buy that will wick urine away from your pet’s skin if she’s incontinent.  A spin-off of the hospital pads developed to eliminate bed sores, Palace Bedding has a thick, 1-1/4″ pile that pulls urine away from your pet’s body so that she won’t sleep in a puddle if she leaks.  What’s more, if your dog or cat has arthritis or bony elbows or hips, Palace Bedding’s thick nap will cushion and protect her joints while she rests and help her to avoid pressure sores if she lies on one side for too long, 

 

And So to Bed

     Dogs and cats who have a hard time stepping up will find beds with raised edges difficult to use, so give them beds that have low edges or none at all.  And if your pet has neck problems, be sure to use a bed with no edges—pets can exacerbate existing neck issues when they hang their heads over the sides of raised-edge beds.  In the fall and winter, your arthritic dog or cat will appreciate a heated bed, but in fact, he may appreciate it all year round.  And while there are a host of orthopedic beds available today, be careful you don’t by one that’s too soft or spongy if your pet has balance or coordination problems as he’ll find it difficult to get in or out of.

     Living with a dog or cat who has special needs can be challenging, but there are a whole host of products available today for pets with limited mobility or functionality.  At Scout’s House, we sell a wide range of products for special needs pets, and we make them available to pet lovers nationwide via our online store at www.scoutshouse.comWith a little help, you and your pet can live more comfortable and more functional lives—even in the face of special needs. 

My Life with Special Needs Pets

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

by Lisa Stahr

 

            As the founder of Scout’s House, a physical rehabilitation therapy, boarding, and daycare center for disabled animals, I know what it means to live with a special needs pet.  My dog Scout had many special needs and her life was a learning experience—for both of us.  She had to learn how to navigate through life partially blind, partially deaf, brain-damaged, and with severely weakened rear legs.  And I had to learn how to help her create some kind of life in the face of her disabilities.  There was a time when she was young—and I’m not kidding here—where Scouty couldn’t even figure out how to get out of the corner of the room without my help.  In time, though, she mastered that—and so many other things, like how to walk without falling, how to use her nose to find what she wanted, how to eat without biting her tongue, how to bark.  All of these things, which come so easily to other dogs, were accomplishments for mine, and we celebrated every milestone along the way. 

            And while Scout taught me a lot about the unique demands of special needs pets, she wasn’t my first pet with a disability.  That honor would have to go to Bear, a black-and-white Manx cat whom I adopted when she was 8 years old.  Her owner was one of the first AIDS patients in San Francisco and, although it broke his heart, he had to give her and her 5-year-old daughter up as he entered the hospital one last time.  When I found Bear, someone had already adopted her daughter, but nobody wanted her because she was “too old,” so I took her.  Truly, one of the best decisions of my life.  Bear was a sweet, sweet cat who loved me more than tuna fish, which is saying a lot.  And although she was “old” when I got her, she went on another 13 very robust years, living to the tender age of 21.  And along the way, she and I faced a challenge not unique to Manx cats: urinary incontinence. 

            I saw one vet after another, looking for a way to help her stop leaking urine.  But all of them said that because she had no tail (she was a dimpled rumpy, for those of you who speak Manx), she had poor nerve input to her sphincter and would always be incontinent.  But we dealt with it because that’s what you do when someone you love is disabled.  I didn’t know about disposable diapers for pets back then or any of the other special products that exist today to help make life easier for incontinent pets (and their owners).  Instead, I just put out layers and layers of old towels in all of the places where Bear liked to sleep and I did far more loads of laundry than anyone else my age.  I also learned how to clean Bear to avoid urine scald, how to give her an enema when her neural input was too weak to tell her to do the job herself, and a hundred other things I never thought I’d have to do for my cat.  But it was what Bear needed to stay comfortable and I’ve never thought that animals deserve any less than what I would do for a human being. 

            While Bear was still alive, Nick joined our family and I’m happy to say he’s still going strong today at 16.  (Evidently, I pick cats with good genes.)  Nick was a black cat in a managed colony that lived near Sunset Magazine, and one day he showed up at the food bowl my friend put out with a badly mangled front leg.  It took my friend a month to trap Nick (he was—and still is—a very wary soul) and by that time his leg had shriveled up from lack of use.  There was no such thing as rehab therapy back then, so my veterinarian amputated the leg and Nick began life as a “tripod.”  He adapted beautifully, but there were a few accommodations we learned to make for him, like elevating his food and water bowls, putting out rubber-backed rugs on our hardwood floors for extra traction, and getting a cat box with a low lip. 

            A few years later, those changes would be appreciated by Squirt, a little black-and-white kitten who had just been hit by a car when I found him.  He lost a back leg to that accident, but he gained a home from it—a home where he was greatly loved and where his mobility issues were (pardon the pun) taken in stride.  From Squirt I learned that pets don’t have the emotional baggage of physical disability that humans do.  He didn’t care that he was missing a leg and it certainly didn’t hold him back from enjoying every minute of life that came his way.  He ate with enthusiasm, slept with abandon, and played as if every moment was utter joy.  I swear, when he and Nick used to chase each other around the house, you could almost hear them laughing. 

            Today, we have Geronimo, a champagne tabby who was mysteriously paralyzed as a kitten and came to Scout’s House as a patient, thanks to the kind hearts of the rescue group Peninsula Cat Works.  Whether he’ll ever walk again or even urinate on his own remains to be seen, but at Scout’s House we continue intensive therapy with the hope that it will make a difference someday.  To be honest, G couldn’t care less—he just thinks it’s great fun, even if we do have a strange sense of how to play.  And at home, we put in ramps so that he can drag himself up to the places the other cats easily jump to, we buy training pads by the caseload so that we can express him with a minimum of mess, and we keep bottles of waterless shampoo around the house for quick clean-ups. 

            Like Squirty before him, G doesn’t know he’s disabled.  To him, life is all about eat, sleep, love, play—just as it is for almost every other pet I’ve ever met, disabled or otherwise.  And that’s what I love about animals, and about special needs pets in particular.  They don’t worry about what was or what could have been, they just enjoy what is. 

            I should be so wise.