Archive for the ‘Special Needs Pets’ Category


Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

by Lisa Stahr

I’ll be honest, this was a tough show for me, personally, to do today. 

Like you, I’d like to think that dog fighting a la Michael Vick, animal hoarding, and puppy mills are rarities in the United States–and certainly not things that happen anywhere near where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area.  But as today’s guest, Bruce Wagman, an attorney with Schiff Harden and an expert in animal law, pointed out, these things do, in fact, go on everyday in America and right under our noses, right where we live.

The conditions these animals live in are worse than anything you could imagine:  living, breathing, eating, sleeping in crates so filled with urine and feces that it burns out their eyes and disintegrates the pads of their feet.  Their injuries and wounds are left untreated.  They’re used as bait, pulled apart by dogs who are bigger, stronger, faster.  And maybe worst of all, they have absolutely no hope for a normal life. 

Please, as difficult as it might be, listen to Episode 6 of Special Pets, Special Needs.  And then make a difference in the lives of animals who are living–this minute–in these deplorable conditions by making a donation to the Animal Legal Defense Fund at  Your donation, large or small, will save an animal’s life.  And if you mention Scout’s House when you make your donation, we will match every dollar you contribute with one of our own. 

Many of us define ourselves by our love for animals.  But we cannot call ourselves animal lovers if we don’t do something to stop this.  Now. 

Please help us shine the light on these most special of “special needs” pets.  It could have just as easily have been your pet in that dog fighting ring or in that box.

Disabled Pets Aren’t Disposable

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

by Lisa Stahr

     Something we hear regularly from our rehab clients at Scout’s House—especially the new ones—is, “My friends think I’m nuts for spending this kind of money on my dog, but I love her so much and I can’t stand to see her like this.”

     Every time I hear that, I’m struck by how judgmental some people can be when a friend or family member spends money on a pet. 

     I know there are all sorts of arguments you can make about the ethics of spending money on animals, but to me it comes down to one thing:  Love.  

     When someone you love is in trouble and needs help, you help, and most of the time you don’t think twice about doing it.  And whether you realize it or not, your reasons for helping aren’t completely altruistic:  You do it because it makes your life better too.  And why is that?  Because you love them.  They bring something to your life that makes you feel good.  They make you laugh, they keep you company, or maybe they just soothe your soul at the end of a day.  For whatever reason, you love them and so when they hurt or suffer, you hurt and suffer too.  And, heaven forbid, when they die, a part of you dies with them.

     Love is important to us as human beings.  It’s so integral to our happiness and well being that we seek it out and nurture it whenever and wherever we can.  We look for love.  We thrive with love.  And if we don’t have love, we wither, just like plants that never see the sun.  Love is so critical to our survival that we’ll go to great lengths to keep it.  And often, especially for those of us who love our pets as family, that means we spend money on them.  Sometimes, a lot of money.  

     People who don’t have pets, or who don’t relate to their pets in the same way, don’t understand why we do that.  They criticize us for our choices or they tell us that what we’re doing is wrong, misguided, unethical, or wasteful.  When our dog Scout was sick, my husband and I took a lot of heat from family and friends for spending money on her care.  Thankfully, we didn’t listen to them.  We recognized that it was our money and our choice and if other people, including our immediate family members, didn’t agree with our decision, that was their problem.  We loved Scout and we didn’t want to lose her; losing her would mean losing love and that, in turn, would undermine our happiness.  It would uproot our lives, impact our bodies and change the chemistry in our brains. 

     And it would break our hearts. 

     Looking deeper, though, the disapproval people felt obliged to share with us about Scout subtly conveyed the message that she wasn’t worth saving.  Well, I have news for you, Scout was worth saving.  Forget that she launched a business that has impacted the lives of thousands of animals and their owners, Scout was special to us.  She made us happy.  And she taught us that just because an animal is disabled doesn’t mean she’s disposable.  

     But that’s something I think I always knew.  When I was just out of college, I adopted an 8-year-old Manx cat who everyone else passed over at the SPCA.  And one day, I took her to the veterinarian because she leaked urine when she slept.  At the time, I didn’t realize that Manx cats, like Bear, often had incontinence issues, but the vet I saw explained that to me, then in the next breath, he casually recommended that I put Bear to sleep and get another cat who didn’t leak.  

     “There are plenty of other cats out there who need homes,” he said.  “Put this one to sleep and go get one that works for you.”

     Oh.  My.  God.

     I clutched Bear to my breast and ran out of there as fast as I could.  Yes, he was right, there were plenty of other pets out there looking for homes.  But that didn’t mean I wanted to get rid of the one I had and buy another.  I loved that cat.  That personality.  To me, Bear was a sentient being, not a garage door opener.  And emotionally, I understood then she was disabled, not disposable.  Those are two very different things.

     It’s no wonder I ended up starting a physical rehabilitation therapy center for special needs pets.  And why we grew that business to encompass boarding and daycare so that the owners of special needs animals can go on vacation once in awhile and know that their family members will be cared for correctly and with compassion.

     And it’s no wonder I never went back to that veterinarian.  I’m sorry to say he’s still in practice in our area and who knows how many dogs and cats have been put to sleep because he couldn’t see beyond their disabilities.  Today, I understand that his limited vision as a veterinarian (let alone as a compassionate person) has cost him much more dearly than he will ever know.  Many of his clients have come to Scout’s House after seeing him and told us a similar tale.  Thankfully, they didn’t listen to him either and we were able to help their pets recover—or sometimes even just maintain—a level of functionality that he couldn’t imagine.  

     But thanks to him and “well-meaning” family and friends, I’ve been forced over the years to really think about why I find their admonitions so offensive.  And I’ve realized it’s because I cherish the animals I’ve had the honor to live with and I respect their right to live.  And for the ones who have disabilities—as Bear and Scout did—I understand that just because they’re disabled doesn’t mean they’re disposable.  

     So text that 50 times to your friend next time she tells you you’re crazy to spend your money on your cat, or repeat it like a mantra to your family when they say you shouldn’t spend money on surgery or rehab therapy for your dog. 

     It’s all about love, people.  And disabled pets are just as lovable as able-bodied ones.

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.  

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. 

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.