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Doomed to die: The tragedy of Wyoming's special needs shelter dogs

Recently, a deaf Great Pyrenees sat in the Dog & Cat Shelter in Sheridan, Wyoming, for over a year waiting for an adopter who was willing and able to deal with his deafness. As special needs goes, this guy had the deck stacked against him. Though he had a great personality and shelter volunteers taught him many hand signals, he was still an extra-large dog that requires extra care. In most shelters, he wouldn’t have lived beyond a week or two – in a high-kill, it’s doubtful that this young, well-mannered dog would ever even make it to the adoption floor.

Dogs that are depressed or scared in the shelter may be considered special needs. Their only real problem is the lack of a stable, loving home.
Dogs that are depressed or scared in the shelter may be considered special needs. Their only real problem is the lack of a stable, loving home.
Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez, Wikimedia Commons

What types of special needs shelter dogs are there?

Just because a shelter dog is labeled “special needs,” does not mean they will have vet bills or behavior problems for their entire lives. It may not even mean that they need extra care; they only need some extra understanding. Problems range from socialization issues, to ongoing problems such as diabetes or organ disease, to problems that can be fixed with surgery or treatment, such as a luxating patella.

What happens to special needs dogs?

In most cases, special needs dogs in the shelters are euthanized when they can’t find homes quickly. Some go into foster homes, and a lucky few make it into rescues where they’ll be cared for until they find a permanent home. A few live out their lives in a shelter, devoid of true social connections with humans or other dogs. The label scares away so many adopters that few look beyond it to the potentially great pet, so few find homes.

How can special needs dogs be helped?

There are many ways to help a special needs dog aside from adopting it. For instance, the Great Pyrenees referenced above became more adoptable through the efforts of volunteers who helped him build his confidence and his hand signal “vocabulary.” Roxy, a dog in the City of Powell/Moyer Animal Shelter in Powell, Wyoming, still looking for a home as of May 2014, has a lifetime supply of thyroid medications paid for by a generous donor. Roxy has been looking for a home since 2011, but shelter staff are hopeful that someone will give her a chance now that medication cost doesn’t have to factor into the decision. Other special needs dogs, such as True, a border collie in Glenrock, Wyoming, born with overly short front legs, will live to die of old age with little or no extra vet care.

Everyone can help shelter dogs find homes, and special needs dogs need just a little extra help so that people see beyond their label. Share them on social media, donate to their recovery, or simply take an hour to go play with them. Every little bit helps, and may be the dog’s only chance at finding a home.

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