Pets, Places, & Things, Points on Pets

The Joys of Adopting a “Hard to Adopt” Pet

By Angela June Ohm

The Joys of Adopting a “Hard to Adopt” Pet

This title doesn’t refer to show breeds: it refers to those pets who seemingly nobody wants.  Who languish in foster homes and shelters while younger pets, healthier pets, and those who just plain “show better” metaphorically fly off the shelf. According to the ASPCA, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized yearly (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats).  If you adopt a senior or special needs pet, you can help them escape this cruel fate and will get in return a pet that truly appreciates you.

I grew up on a farm in Arkansas with cats, dogs, horses, you name it, but never had experience with a pet that was considered hard to adopt.  That changed two years ago when I adopted two “What About Me?” cats from King Street Cats (KSC) in Alexandria, Virginia. Gillian and Josephine had cream-colored hair, golden eyes, and a heartbreaking bio. It detailed the difficult life that both had survived together—they were in a hoarding house with 100 cats in Baltimore, both had been food-deprived, and it was suspected that Josephine had been physically abused.  Our first meeting initially didn’t go well. Gillian ignored me and Josephine hissed at me for an hour and a half.  Finally, she relented and let me pet her trembling little head.  With that show of trust, I knew we would be alright.  KSC advised me to keep them in one room of my home for several days to get used to the smells and sounds of a new place and continued be a resource as the girls and I became a family.  Gillian was willing to come out from hiding under the couch first and showed Josephine that I could be trusted. Now Josephine, who would barely tolerate touch, is eager for head scratches and belly rubs (even kisses).

Adopting Gillian and Josephine has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. I talked to several local experts who work with similar animals to learn what they do and what they advise people who are looking to adopt these special pets.

Viven Bacon, board member of KSC, which runs off private donations, says that during normal times a cat could be in and out as quickly as a week; however, some have stayed as long as four years. In 2010, KSC decided to create a campaign to highlight cats who had been in the shelter for a while due to their age, health issues, or simply because they are too shy, called “What About Me?”.  Melissa Murphy, also with KSC, says that the campaign finds 80-90% of those featured homes and has been approached by other rescue groups for ideas on how to do something similar.  Both say they have not found that “What About Me Cats?” are more likely than others to be returned to the shelter.  Those that do not find homes stay with KSC so, in a sense, they all get adopted.

KSC takes special cats from other shelters.  For example, cats with Cerebellar Hypoplasia (CH or “wobbly cat syndrome”) are sweet-natured cats, but they have a problem with cages physically, so they can better show off their precious nature to potential adopters in the free-range facility. They also take FIV+ cats and educate people on how adoptable these cats really are.  According to the folks at KSC, not everyone wants the same traits in a cat, so even if a cat has some difficulties, they still have what someone out there needs in a pet.

A good tip KSC gave me was to try a vet who makes home visits.  Dr. Juan Villar, with Home Veterinary Care Northern Virginia, has treated pets that come from “normal” backgrounds and those that took a bit longer to find their forever home.  He says that getting to know your pet is important regardless of the situation they come from.  “Spend time with your pet and know their ins and outs.  Communication is key.  For dogs, training is advisable.”  According to Dr. Villar, pet guardians who take hard to adopt pets usually have a wonderful experience, especially if they make the time to ensure that the placement is a good match by learning about the animal beforehand and spending time with it.

Ellen Carozza, President of the Arlington-based Chris Griffey Memorial Feline Foundation agrees: “people need to understand that a lot of these cats that really do need rescuing really do give back. They could be the pet you’ve been looking for. You just need to give them the opportunity to shine. What you see in a cubicle behind bars does not reflect the cat.  Talk to the people who care for them and they can tell you about their personality.” Her foundation helps foster at-risk kittens with veterinary and adoption services.  They run off charitable contributions to nurse back to health kittens who most likely would have been euthanized otherwise.  Like KSC, they utilize a network of fosters to socialize these special pets and get them adoption ready.

All agree that the main trait that adopters of these special pets need to have is patience.  That certainly was the experience I’ve had with Gillian and Josephine.  It took a little time, but they are my shadows now and greet me at the door when I come home. They are well-behaved and loving!

In addition to the organizations mentioned here, many throughout the country help these special animals find a forever home. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary headquartered in Utah takes in dogs, cats, horses, etc.  There are even various “Seniors for Seniors” adoption programs where seniors humans can find a senior animal companion.   If you are interested in a special animal there are lots of options, so please consider them the next time you adopt.  You’ll be giving a truly deserving soul a home and adding an endless amount of love to your home.

About the Author: Angela June Ohm lives in Arlington with her two rescue cats Gillian, a domestic shorthair with precious fangs, and Josephine, a Norwegian Forest Cat.”

“Angela June Ohm lives in Arlington with her two rescue cats Gillian, a domestic shorthair with precious fangs, and Josephine, a Norwegian Forest Cat.”


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