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Islands of Misfit Pets

This smile is anything but mean, but takes some getting used to.

At least three times a week I get asked, “So how many pets do you have?” It’s a common sense question considering what I do for a living, and it usually comes on the tail end of a call at which I’ve fallen in love yet again with something fluffy and four-legged. The short answer to this is, I have two cats and a dog. This is my answer that makes me look sane.

The longer answer is that I would have many more pets, if my current ones allowed it. One of my cats is, well, intolerant of other animals. Another has litter box issues. My dog aggresses other dogs when she’s on a leash and has no concept of personal space, which gets her into more trouble than she really ever plans for. (Think of your little brother holding his hand in front of your face and repeating, “I’m not touching you. I’m not touching you. I’m not touching you.”) She also has crazy whale eyes and growls when she wants attention. It’s enough to give even the most dog-savvy people the creeps until they get used to her.

The truth of the matter is that most people who work in the animal welfare industry have pets with issues. We’re like an archipelago of islands of misfit pets. Dotted throughout the ocean of normal pet owners are our safe havens for the behaviorally or physically imperfect.

It’s no coincidence that we’ve made homes for these special-needs guys. Our immersion in the worlds of animal behavior and animal medicine has made us ideal candidates to deal with the issues that these guys bring. We get so used to recognizing and handling unusual situations that we get pretty good at it. So naturally, we end up taking home the dog that escapes every conceivable fence or the cat that lives underneath the bed, emerging only to deposit a hairball in the hallway. Our tolerance levels for these types of behaviors are higher than Steven Tyler’s for alcohol.

Petsitting for us can be an ordeal. Cat A needs her medication that she will spit out seven times. Dog B needs to go outside but only into yard X with the special fencing. Dog C needs to eat, but not anywhere near Cat D that also needs to eat, but is on a special diet. Emergency phone numbers posted on the refrigerators include three different vets and poison control. So as I petsit my coworker’s pit bull that smiles to reveal pearly white canines, I laugh instead of running in fear. Her lip-curling, teeth-baring face is in stark contrast to her wagging body, and I know she’s not showing me any sign of aggression.We rely on each other to watch the pets when we leave town. Asking the neighbor to take on the job would just be mean.

Anyone who owns a special-needs pet learns to look past all the headaches and inconveniences that these guys bring. We adapt to their shortcomings to make life work, and it doesn’t take long before we don’t see them as problem-children. We see their affection, their love of play, their curious nature. We see them. And they see us–with their one good eye.

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  1. lorla24
    April 15, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    That is the cutest smile on Teal’s dog!!!

    • April 17, 2012 at 2:45 pm

      Yeah, as soon as I saw that pic I cracked up and knew what I would write about!

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