Understanding Shelter Pets With Ailments
Working in an animal shelter is consistently inconsistent. From the heartbreak of neglect cases to the joy of seeing our favorite pets find a home, we never know what challenges and successes each day will bring. The homeless pets we receive as strays or owner surrender are as unpredictable as our days. Some are purebred, some are mixed breeds, some are healthy, some require extreme medical attention, some love other animals and people and some need a lot of training.
The unpredictability of our pets can make some adopters nervous. This is when the job is toughest. We see amazing animals sit in our facility for months, even years, because they are not given the chance in a new home. These animals suffer because potential adopters are intimidated by their ailments, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
I, for one, adopted an arthritic, heartworm positive black lab mix when I started at the Albrecht Center. It took me three weeks to make up my mind about going through with the adoption because of his heartworm diagnosis. I thought that meant he was on death’s doorstep, or my cat would become infected or I wouldn’t be able to afford the treatment. After weeks of research and talking to our Veterinary Care Center staff, I realized Ozzy could live a perfectly happy and healthy life, my cat would be safe and treatment wouldn’t necessarily break the bank.
The American Heartworm Society states, heartworms are “caused
by foot-long worms that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets.” A pet becomes infected when a mosquito bites an infected animal and becomes a host for the heartworms and then bites another animal, thus infecting the healthy animal. If left untreated this can cause severe damage to the heart and other organs, and can be fatal. [i]
No wonder adopters, as well as myself, are hesitant in adopting heartworm positive dogs. The problem is, we read these seemingly terrifying facts without educating ourselves on the positive side: treatment can be affordable and these animals can grow to be healthy and happy (see below photos for Ozzy's before, and the other for his after)! If you adopt a heartworm positive animal from the SPCA Albrecht Center, we cover the cost of treatment as long as the adopter follows the protocol of regularly giving the animal their medicine and bringing them in for checkups.
Though treatment can take time to completely kill the disease, once they are treated, they can live a normal life with only some limit to physical activity. And, as long as your other pets are on regular heartworm preventative, which they should be, there is virtually no chance of them becoming infected. If your pet somehow does become infected while on heartworm prevention, many heartworm companies, like Heartgard, will pay for treatment.
Another intimidating condition we see is Feline Leukemia, FeLV. This retrovirus can only be transmitted between cats and will not affect humans or other animals. It is passed between cats through blood and saliva, usually during fighting or grooming, and (rarely) feces or urine. As humans, we hear “Leukemia” and automatically think about cancer. However, FeLV is actually a virus. It can cause cancer, but the biggest risk is a suppressed immune system, which make the cat susceptible to infections. Though there is no cure for FeLV, there are treatments for some of the infections they may become afflicted with. [ii]
Cerebellar Hypoplasia, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), blindness and arthritis are also commonly seen and cause loving, adoptable animals to sit in shelters for weeks, months and even years. Though these conditions will require extra care, through education and commitment we can save these animals from living a life stuck in a shelter without the love and companionship of an owner.
The SPCA Albrecht Center is committed to helping educate potential adopters on anything they may want to know, including these illnesses. Our Veterinary Care Staff and Pet Care Specialists would love the opportunity to talk to anyone who is considering adopting an animal with special needs, as we know these animals deserve the same rich, quality of life as our other pets.
If you are unable to adopt, the SPCA Albrecht Center greatly appreciates your consideration in donating to our Tails of Hope fund. 100% of these donations go towards the medical care of our pets, especially our animals with afflictions. As an adopter of a heartworm positive pup, I personally thank all of you that have donated and understand the potential in these pets. You can donate online at: www.LetLoveLive.org/tailsofhope.
[i] American Heartworm Society: https://www.heartwormsociety.org
[ii] Cornell Feline Health Center: https://www2.vet.cornell.edu
Claire Grimes is the SPCA Albrecht Center’s Development Director. She is an Aiken native, but spent some college years in Charleston, interning with Charleston Animal Society. She is excited to be working in animal welfare in her hometown and is proud of the community efforts to better the lives of Aiken’s animals. Her family includes her husband, Logan, a SPCA adopted black lab, Ozzy, a SPCA adopted Siamese mix, Luna, and Claire’s first love, Anakin, a 17-pound rescued Maine Coon mix.