Loving a “Special Needs” Dog

I have a soft spot for the less desirable dogs, the special needs dogs. The seniors, the one-eyed, deaf, three-legged tripods. The shut down dogs who wish they could disappear, the anxious basket-case, the fearful rescue, and the behavioural bully. I love them all!

The reality is, most people want a cute little puppy who does cute little puppy things. I love puppies!  Don’t get me wrong. I love a cute little puppy as much as the next person. But the dog with medical needs in the wheelchair, the dog who has been misunderstood and mistreated and shrinks at the back of their crate, the senior dog dumped at the shelter and needing a home for their twilight years, the deaf or blind dog that just needs guidance… those are the ones that really pull at my heartstrings.

I have a special needs dog, Thorne. Anyone who knows me and has heard all of my Thorne adventures would expect me to now say that he’s a challenging jerk (a term he has earned and I say with love), which makes him special, but that is a blog for another day. He is also epileptic. It started when he was around 2 and I adopted him when he was about 4 so I knew what I was getting. Through my dog care businesses, I’ve cared for several epileptic dogs so I’ve seen the seizures many times and knew what to expect. Epileptic dogs require special care because you never know when a seizure is going to happen and you always have to be prepared. They also require medication so they are more expensive than “normal” dogs.

Thorne lives a normal life. In every aspect, he is a “normal” dog, except for the possibility of a seizure. I’m lucky in that he doesn’t have seizures very often. When I first got him, he was having one every 2-3 weeks. He’s never had a cluster, but he’d have a good grand mal seizure pretty regularly. I worked with my vet for about a year or so to get his medication sorted out properly. Slowly they became less and less frequent and at one point recently, he went over 14 months without a seizure. That was a great year!

Watching him seizure is heartbreaking. Every time he has one, he pees, foams at his mouth and contorts his body while spasming. I’ve seen him fall off a chair and pee all over my bed. It’s not fun, for either of us. There is nothing I can do to help him. I just have to be there to make sure he won’t hurt himself, and help him when he comes out of it. He’s always disoriented when he comes out of them and paces around for an hour or so. He has never shown aggression, but I know that can happen with some epileptic dogs so I always make sure not to get too close to him while he is having it or when he’s coming out of it. Thorne is a challenging dog in his normal life and keeps me on my toes (my earlier reference to him being special really means that he pisses me off regularly!) but when he’s having a seizure, my heart fills with love and empathy for him. I hate that he has to go through it and it makes me heartsick to watch him. All of his challenging behaviours wash away in those moments and he just becomes a dog needing his mom and I become a mom wanting to take her dog’s pain away.

There are definitely things to consider when adopting a special needs dog. Do you have the emotional bandwidth to deal with medial or behaviour issues? Do you have the money in your budget for any medications, training or special equipment they may require? If you are taking in a dog with medical needs, discuss with your vet how this will affect them and you during the different stages of their life. Do you have the time and patience needed for special training or unexpected situations? Thorne’s seizures happen at night 99% of the time so I lose sleep every time they happen. He has to sleep in our bedroom so that I’ll wake up if it happens. I never want him to go through it alone. I don’t care about lost sleep – that’s not important to me. But depending on your lifestyle, it could be a deal breaker. Some special needs dogs require a home with no stairs, or someone who is home most of the time. These are all things that you need to consider when bringing a special needs dog into your life.

These special dogs may require more time, emotion and money, but the feeling you get from caring for a special needs dog is priceless. I guarantee, they will give you back limitless love and devotion.

Cheryl Caswell

Founder and Professional Dog Lover,
Happy Hearts Dog Adoption Services

Since 2001, I’ve dedicated much of my life to dogs by caring for thousands of them through Dogs at Camp Ottawa, my kennel-free boarding/daycamp business, and It’s a Dog’s Life, my dog daycare in Toronto. I am the mom to 6 beautiful rescues, volunteer with local Ottawa dog rescues, and have fostered over 70 dogs since 2009.

I’m asked fairly regularly to help people who are experiencing problems with their dog, or who want advice on what type of dog to adopt – and so Happy Hearts Dog Adoption Services came to life!

I believe that if people are more prepared and knowledgeable, more dogs will stay in their forever home

Become a Happy Hearts Insider

In-Depth Guide

Cheryl's insights on What to Expect when Adopting a Dog.

Exclusive Discount

Happy Hearts Insiders get $10 off the Start Off Right program