Living with Special Needs Pets: An Interview with Dusty Rainbolt

Today, we have a real life story of a rescuer of Special Needs cats! Meet Dusty Rainboldt, a writer who is well-known in the cat-loving community. She is also the Vice President of AdoptAShelter.com, and she’s here today to share her experiences of fostering and living with special needs pets.

Welcome, Dusty!

Crepes: Tell us about the special needs cats in your life.

DR: Since 1986, I  have fostered and re-homed over a thousand bottle babies. On our third date, my husband and I rescued an orphan kitten.  Over the years we ended up keeping kitties with health issues: a hydrocephalic kitten, an FIV positive kitten, and three three-legged kitties (one also had a neurological condition in addition to his missing leg), herpes kitties, a blind cat, feral adults. We’ve also cared for our personal cats with special needs: kidney disease, fatty liver disease, pancreatitis, and conditions associated with age.

We’ve also fostered cruelty and trauma cases that took many months to recover. One kitty was a victim of domestic violence. He suffered brain trauma and eventually lost his eye. Zeki, another stray, survived a knife attack. Her rehab required twice daily hydro therapy sessions. Right now we have a kitty named Taco who suffered from serious intentional burns. Like Zeki, we had to do hydrotherapy and keep the wound protected.

Taco looking great after some care and love.

Taco looking great after lots of care and love.

C: What are your cats’ needs like?
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DR: Right now, we have three-legged cats, a visually challenged kitty with herpes, and some bottle babies. Our animal ophthalmologist says BK has some vision. Normally, they say if you have blind pet, don’t move the furniture. He at least has enough vision that  furniture isn’t a problem. He needs no special care, except we give him lysine and eyedrops. The FIV positive kitty needs no special care as the disease isn’t active. The three-leggers need nothing special. They can outrun me anytime. The plus is, they don’t jump on the table or the counters.
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C: Indeed. I feel their frustration about the counters. Why did you decide to adopt special needs?
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DR: Nobody else wanted to adopt them. People who only want “normal” or beautiful pets are really losing out. Leggo (our tripod with the neurological issues) wobbles when he goes from one place to another. He never takes a direct route. Still, it’s inspiring to watch him and our other special guys. When they wake up after losing a leg, they don’t feel sorry for themselves. They don’t whine. They don’t have to worry about other kitties teasing them. When you watch them get up for the first time you can see them think, “That’s different.” They just figure out the best way to get around and get on with their lives.
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Having special pets teaches children compassion and acceptance for humans with disabilities. I think everyone should have a special pet.

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C: I agree. Do you find caring for their needs to be a lot of extra work?
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DR: It depends on the “need”. The pancreatitis is a lot of work. Frequent feedings. You have to  provide pain relief and fluids. Kidney cats need fluids and need to be encouraged to eat. For the most part, most special need don’t need anything special.
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C: Would you do it again?
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DR: Unequivocally yes.
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C: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
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DR:  When you adopt or foster a special needs kitty you are saving a life. They’re usually the last ones adopted/rescued and the first ones euthanized. If you market them right, people will want to adopt them. I don’t regret  a moment. I just wish I could clone myself so I could save more.

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That’s it! Another inspiring look into someone living with special needs pets. A big thank you to Dusty for speaking with me today.

More about Dusty Rainbolt:

Dusty is the Vice President of AdoptAShelter.com, a shop to donate website dedicated to helping pet charities. She’s also active in the Cat Writers Association, is a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, and is the author of Cat Wrangling Made Easy, Kittens for Dummies, And Ghost Cats: Human Encounters with Feline Spirits, among other things. You can find out more at www.dustycatwriter.com

 

D’Artagnan’s New Mom: Why She Adopted Special Needs and You Can, Too

I am so excited to share this very special post with you! Today’s piece is a conversation with Bailey Maitland, the very special twenty-two year old young lady that adopted D’Artagnan, my first ever Bachelor of the Week. Despite his injuries, (he was hit by a car and paralyzed from the waist down) Bailey was drawn to D’Artagnan’s story and drove all the way from Toronto, Canada to New Jersey to pick him up and bring him to his new home. Here is her story.

tabby's place

Bailey and D’Art at Tabby’s Place

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Tell me, Bailey, why did you decide to adopt a cat with special needs?

It all started in July of 2012 while I was working at various gas stations selling a waterless wash and wax for cars. We had gone on a road trip about and hour and a half away to Peterborough, Ontario to explore new territory. After dinner one night, as we were pulling into the hotel parking lot, I noticed something moving awkwardly. I went to investigate it and noticed it was a limping kitten. I caught her and brought her under the light to see what was wrong. I noticed she had open wounds on her paws so I brought her into the hotel lobby and asked the representative what to do. She was working the overnight shift and said she would bring it to the local animal rescue centre in the morning. As soon as I woke up, I phoned the centre and they said they were at capacity. I ran downstairs and told the receptionist that I would take the kitten to a vet.

And what did the vet have to say about this kitten that you found?

He confirmed that she appeared to be paralyzed. He guessed she was around 8-12 weeks old, and she weighed under 1 lb. She was on the brink of starvation. He said she wouldn’t have a very good quality of life and suggested I put her down. I was bawling my eyes out. I couldn’t imagine doing that to a poor helpless creature. I told him I wanted to take care of her and get a second opinion from my vet back home. He then prescribed me antibiotics, and a topical treatment for her wounds. He also gave me some antibacterial soap and deworming medication.

When I brought her to my vet a week later, she had gained over 1 lb. She was back on track to what she should weigh. My vet told me that the kitten had good anal tone, and was able to defecate on her own, but that her bladder needed to be expressed.

Later on, I was able to afford to get her xrays, and the damage was pretty bad. She was also referred to a specialist, who confirmed everything I had been hearing so far: she would never walk again. I considered litter training her, but because she would drag in it, and because she leaked urine sometimes, I decided going the diaper route was the best option.

Diaper time!

Diaper time!

So how did you end up finding D’Artagnan?

I searched the internet to try to find out information on paraplegic kittens as I had no experience whatsoever with disabled animals. I came across catster.com and posted in one of their forums asking for advice. One woman responded saying that I should contact Tabby’s Place. I went to their website and looked over every page with a fine tooth comb. I sent an email mentioning that my kitten’s symptoms were almost identical to “some cat” named D’Artagnan. I received a reply from the founder, Jonathan, and some very helpful tips from their vet tech.

As soon as I saw D’Artagnan’s, profile I fell in love with him. I was always checking for updates, and posted on my Facebook wall a few times that I wanted to adopt him, or have my kitten meet him because they were both paraplegics. I even made jokes about them having “drag races.”

d'artagnan

D’Art in his new home

But you didn’t adopt him right away.

Because I was still in school full time, and had 6 jobs (yes you read that right), my parents wouldn’t let me adopt another kitten since I already had so much on my plate. I told them time and time again that as soon as I finished school and moved out, that I would adopt him anyway. Finally that day arrived, and I stuck to my promise. I drove nine hours to pick him up and nine hours home. It was a long trip but definitely well worth it. It was an honor to finally meet everyone at Tabby’s place and put a face to the names I had been corresponding with.

D'Art and Little Meow

D’Art and Little Meow

D’Art has some needs that people might find time consuming. For instance, he needs his bladder expressed three times a day. How do you fit that into your schedule?

I personally don’t find their needs very time consuming. You have some cats that won’t use the litter box unless you clean up after them every time, so what’s the difference between that and expressing their bladders? I figured if I was already doing it once a day with one cat, it wouldn’t change my life that much to incorporate another into the routine.

And you found Tabby’s Place to be helpful to you?

During my research, I discovered a lot. I learned about kill shelters and no-kill shelters, and disabled pets of all kinds. That was another reason I decided to adopt D’Art: he came from a place with a good heart, and I knew it would open up a spot for a cat who may be in greater need.

D'Art enjoying a Canadian nap

D’Art enjoying a Canadian nap

Are you worried about vet bills? Have you looked into health insurance?

From my understanding, because both the cats already have disabilities, they would not quality for pet insurance. So far the bills haven’t been too hard. I am thankful to have met such wonderful people who have either given me a discount on their services or who have not charged me for their services and only the medicine needed. The big bills were the ones that are typical for every cat, like getting spayed. Luckily for me, D’art came to me already neutered. I hope the costs will be comparable to that of a “normal” cat, but if they’re not, I don’t mind. They’re very special to me, so the cost wouldn’t matter. I would do whatever I needed in order to ensure they got the medical attention they require. Some people have mentioned that if I set up a donation page, they will help contribute to cover any potential costs.

What will you do with your cats if you need to leave town?

I don’t have any plans to go away on vacation any time in the near future as I want to make sure the kittens adjust well to each other, but I have looked into services in my area. There is one in particular that offers in-home care to help minimize the stress an animal will face while you are gone. They can come over multiple times a day so that your pets remain in your home instead of in an unfamiliar room at a boarding place. So I think I would either take advantage of that, or preferably just have my father take care of them. I’m pretty sure he’ll miss the cat more than he misses me when I move out.

D'Art and his Tabby's Place toy

D’Art and his Tabby’s Place toy

What do you want everyone to know about adopting a cat like D’Artagnan?

I want everyone to know that disabled pets come in all forms from FIV+, to paraplegic, to something as simple as a special diet. Yes, some may require a little more attention than others, but the bond you will develop with said pet, I found at least, was way stronger than with a “normal” pet. I think it’s way more rewarding. My kitten has completely changed my life and taught me so many new things. I never knew I could love something so much. Not once have I regretting taking her home, and I am so glad that I did not take my vet’s advice and put her down. I’m sure my experiences with D’art will be the same. He is such a sweet boy, and is a lap cat, which my girl isn’t. You just need to do your research and talk to a vet to find out if a disabled pet is something you can commit to and feel good about. Half the time they don’t even realize they’re disabled. My kitten goes up and down the stairs, jumps off the bed and plays like any other kitten would. I joke that she’s the perfect cat because she can never climb on things and break them or climb on the table and eat the flowers ;).

The New Family

The New Family

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What a touching story! Bailey is really a remarkable lady at a young age, and having such a great animal advocate in the world truly heartens me. I hope that her story makes it clear that adopting a special needs animal is a wonderful experience, and that with some extra effort, your life can be affected in positive ways, not to mention the life of that animal to whom you provide a home. Thank you so much, Bailey for sharing your story with us! My best to you and D’Art and his new sister, Little Meow!