Adopting a Special Needs Pet
Why it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
Almost two years ago, I adopted my first cat. Not a family cat, but mine. One I would be responsible for, and who would live with me, wherever that was. A little backstory: the previous year, I had moved away to go to school. I’d tried multiple institutions closer to home, but none really worked for me. Moving away to go to school meant I was on my own for the first time. That first year, I was in a college dorm. The second year, I moved into a studio apartment near campus. Living in a dorm, I had missed having cats around (my family has always had at least one). Moving into a studio apartment, I decided it was time to get my first cat.
That February, my mom and I started looking at different rescues and shelters. We would visit them on weekends, looking for a cat that was a good fit for me and where I would be living (a shoebox apartment, so no longhairs). In early March, we looked at North Toronto Cat Rescue. They had a few cats we thought could be good for me, so we planned a visit. They were set up in a house, with cats in almost every room. Some in cages, others roaming around their particular room. We told them what I was looking for: an affectionate cat, who wouldn’t be interested in doorways/escaping (I did not need that anxiety every time I left or entered my apartment), and who got along well with other cats. I explained that I would be living alone in my apartment, but planned on taking the cat home with me during semester breaks. We looked at a few cats who were possibles, but none jumped out at me. So my mom and I took another walk around the various rooms, discussing the couple of cats who seemed like the best fit. Then we went into the FIV+ room (we didn’t realize this at the time). We’d been in there once, and most of the cats were fairly standoffish. Wouldn’t come closer, and didn’t seem interested in the possibility of pats.
Enter Taco (his name at the time). The first time we had gone into the room, I had only seen him out of the corner of my eye, sitting under a cat tree, backed into a corner. The second time, he slowly came out, curious about us. I knelt down next to him, and gave him some pats. He then walked around my legs, rubbing up against them. I knew then that I would be taking him home with me. I also knew that I was going to change his name to Pongo. He reminded me of a Dalmatian with his random black spots, so I named him after the dog in 101 Dalmatians. They gave me an overview of what being FIV+ meant (basically he has no immune system), saying that he would be more susceptible to illness. I told them I understood, and that I didn’t care. He was coming home with me.
The drive from the shelter to my apartment took about an hour and a half. I had him in a carrier on my lap, and he didn’t make a sound the whole way. Once inside the apartment, he decided the safest place was under the bed. During the first couple of weeks, he would only come out at night while I was asleep. The first time I saw him come out to eat, I was so happy. He was finally starting to trust me. Over the next few weeks, he came out more and more, occasionally letting me give him pats and head scratches.
At about the three month mark, he finally started getting brave enough to jump up on the couch. It took a while to convince him that we could share the couch (every time I saw him on it, he would race under my bed like his tail was on fire, I’m convinced he used to be hit/yelled at for getting on the furniture). Next came my bed, and the same pattern. Eventually, after having him for about six months, he realized we could cuddle on the bed as well, and he would curl up at my feet while I slept. In just under nine months, I had gone from a cat that was scared of affection (he ran from hugs and flinched at kisses), to a cat that loved curling up next to me or sitting draped across my lap, and always got on my bed at night for more cuddles.
Cue the year 2020. I was taking a break from my studies and was home with my parents in January, so obviously Pongo came with me. We went back out to my apartment in February, and weren’t even there a week before I knew something was wrong. He wasn’t eating. A cat who dove into his food, and knew exactly when breakfast and dinner were, had stopped eating. At first I brushed it of as him just being less hungry. Then I heard his stomach rumbling at night. That morning I called my mom and said we needed to take him into the vet ASAP. After an examination and some tests, the vet told us that Pongo has stomatitis. Essentially, it’s an allergy to his own teeth and gums. In most cats, it’s completely benign, and does nothing. Pongo has FIV though, which means he has no immune system to help him. This resulted in a benign tumour under his tongue. They removed it, and all of his teeth. They gave him medicine to take care of the infection from the stomatitis, and put him on steroids to help boost his immune system. He’s now on a regular regime of medications, which he takes every day.
It’s not cheap, and when he was being diagnosed I was terrified of what they might find. But it has all been worth it. I have a cat who loves me unconditionally, and is honestly the best thing in my life. Has it always been easy? No. If I could go back and adopt a different cat, would I? Also a no.
Adopting a special needs pet isn’t easy or cheap, but it’s so rewarding. So the next time you’re looking to adopt, don’t forget to check out special needs pets too. They need your love and care just as much, if not more than healthy pets. If you’re willing to take on their challenges and needs, they will love you so much for it, you’ll scarcely believe it.