We’ve all heard the stories – – the tales from handipet parents sympathizing to one another in a Facebook group, the group chat including foster families and volunteers or even veterinary staff …
We have *all* heard the saying, “they can be ‘pet friendly’ BUT are they ‘handipet friendly’?”
In the new year we decided to tweak some of our regular resolutions of education and awareness to bring something that is making the amazing handipet tri-pawd (get it?! tri-pawd!? Please forgive my “dad joke”!) the ultimate trifecta: unity!
So we are launching the “HandiPet Alliance” – just a group of like-minded “allies” that can be anyONE that supports handipet awareness and compassion can apply!
What Happens When Applying?
You will receive an e-mail confirming your submission & get our “alliance” logo to proudly display on your website/social media — wherever!
If you are a veterinarian/organization you will be added to our “misfit map” and directory (this is does not apply if you are NOT an organization) to alert others that you are misfit friendly!
This “logo” will let the world know that you stand united with handipet advocacy and education and help network and unite pet parents worldwide!
A HUGE thanks to Caitlin McAuliffe at Meow as Fluff for this beautiful write up and video for Bifford’s cause! You can visit them (also be sure to “like” them on Instagram and Facebook, too!) At http://meow.af/ or more Bifford specifically at: http://www.meow.af/bifford
Meet The Handsome Wobbly Cat Who Was Adopted And Returned Three Times Before Finding The Perfect Forever Home!
When Suzi Langer was asked to foster Bifford, a cat with cerebellar hypoplasia (CH), for the animal shelter near her home in Youngstown, Ohio, she didn’t have any experience caring for animals with special needs. However, when Suzi learned the fluffy black feline wasn’t thriving at the shelter, she reluctantly agreed to foster him.
“He was getting bullied and beat up on by the other cats, and he was depressed, lethargic, and not really eating,” remembers Suzi, so she picked him from the shelter in early 2014. “I opened the top of the worn green carrier to see two warm golden eyes staring back at me. Bifford sat there, quietly in the ‘turkey stance,’ and he seemed to almost be overwhelmed by his changing situation.”
However, when Suzi learned Bifford’s history, she quickly understood why he appeared uneasy. On October 9, 2011, Bifford and his litter mates were born with cerebellar hypoplasia, a non-progressive neurological condition that affects balance and coordination. “This may occur if a pregnant queen is vaccinated for feline distemper (FVRCP) using a ‘modified live virus’ vaccine,” explains Suzi, “or if the mother suffers trauma, malnutrition, or panleukopenia [a highly contagious viral disease].”
Sadly, when Bifford was just nine days old, he was rejected by his biological mother, so he was bottle fed by a good Samaritan. Due to his lack of coordination, the good Samaritan also assisted the wobbly kitten by helping him use the litter box and cleaning him, but she eventually surrendered Bifford to the shelter because she was unable to provide him with the extra care and attention she believed he required. “She claimed that he needed 24 hour around-the-clock care in order to survive,” says Suzi.The note that was attached to Bifford’s carrier when he was surrendered
While Bifford was eventually adopted, he was returned to the shelter by his first family because they were going on vacation. His second family was unhappy because although he was able to use the litter box on his own, he didn’t cover up the mess, so they also returned Bifford to the shelter. He was adopted by yet another family and was returned to the shelter for a third time, but not before he was subjected to profound cruelty.
“The ‘owners’ had attempted to lock Bifford in an empty hot tub because they wanted him to ‘die with dignity’ and ‘contain the mess,’ ” explains Suzi. “It breaks my heart to think about Bifford patiently waiting for his ‘family’ to return and with each passing minute he slowly loses hope that they were coming back for him.”
Fortunately, within moments of bringing Bifford home on May 9, 2014, Suzi fell in love with the adorable special needs cat, and she and her husband decided to adopt him! “Bifford was a clumsy, affectionate, verbal little dude and had no reservations with enjoying the ‘clingy’ life attached to his mama’s hip!” says Suzi. Plus, Suzi knew being an adult black cat with special needs would make it harder for Bifford to find a forever home, and she was confident she and her husband would be able to provide him with the care, time, and attention he needed to thrive.
Initially, it was difficult for Suzi to resist the urge to coddle Bifford, especially because cats with cerebellar hypoplasia have issues with balance and coordination that frequently cause them to stumble and fall. However, as it became apparent Bifford was unlikely to actually injure himself, Suzi eventually realized she didn’t need to be quite so protective. “Just like toddlers, sometimes it is OK to let them stumble and fall,” says Suzi. “Of course, be there for them always, but it is OK to give positive reinforcement that it is OK to stumble and sometimes fall just as long as they always get back up and keep on truckin’!”
Nearly seven years later, Bifford is doing better than ever, and while he still wobbles when he walks, he’s incredibly happy and active. He’s also surprisingly self-reliant, which Suzi believes is a product of the more laid-back approach she’s taken towards Bifford’s cerebellar hypoplasia. “Today Bifford is more independent, able to climb into bed at night with us, and overall be a more self-reliant little dude,” explains Suzi, “and I believe that’s partly due to the fact that I am not a ‘helicopter’ mother and constantly swarming over him.”
However, this doesn’t mean Suzi and Bifford don’t have an extremely close relationship. In fact, there’s nothing this affectionate boy enjoys more than cuddling with his mom and dad, but he also adores spending supervised time outside during the spring and summer. “He never goes outside unattended and always wears a brightly colored harness with a leash on it,” says Suzi. “He loves to try and catch lightning bugs, ‘catching’ flowers blowing in the breeze, and all around running and gallivanting in our large open field next to our home.”
Even though it’s very obvious Bifford has an excellent quality of life, Suzi has encountered people, including a vet tech at a local clinic, who mistakenly believe cats with cerebellar hypoplasia are suffering and should be euthanized. She’s also found other common misconceptions are that cerebellar hypoplasia is contagious and that it gets worse over time, neither of which is true.
“These amazing babies are just as capable of living a long, happy, healthy life with minimal ‘special requirements,’ ” says Suzi. “Cerebellar hypoplasia animals — and many other specially-abled animals — are affectionate, strong-willed, resilient, amazing beings and we as humans can gain a thing or two by adopting these special babies and watching them go!”
After all, Suzi speaks from experience, because since adopting Bifford in 2014, she and her husband Michael have opened their home to a variety of special needs pets, including Bart, a one-eyed, partially blind cat; Roscoe, a Rat Terrier with epilepsy; and Maggie Mae, a deaf Pug who recently passed away from transitional cell carcinoma. “They are well-loved and well-cared for and do not require any extra care at home — just a little patience and understanding!” says Suzi.
The Humane Society of the United States has statistics pertaining to animals surrendered or in shelters and they are alarming and concerning:
Estimated number of brick-and-mortar animal shelters in the US: 3,500
Estimated number of rescue groups and animal sanctuaries in North America: 10,000
Number of cats and dogs entering shelters each year: 6-8 million (down from 13 million in 1973)
Of the 3 million cats and dogs euthanized in shelters each year, approximately 2.4 million (80%) are healthy and treatable and could have been adopted into new homes
Percentage of purebred dogs in shelters: 25%
Number cats and dogs adopted from shelters each year: 4 million
Percentage of cats euthanized in shelters: 70%
Percentage of total shelter intake comprised of cats: Approximately 50% (but in some regions 2/3 of shelter population is cats)
Currently there are no statistics that reflect specifically to specially-abled animals in a shelter environment and do you know why? Because most specially-abled animals are comprised of the “euthanized” statistics you are seeing above.
What is even more alarming is the statistic reflecting, “of the three million cats & dogs euthanized in shelters each year, approximately 2.4 million (80%) are healthy & treatable and could have been adopted into new homes…” this means that these animals are being euthanized in shelters and rescues annually due to the fact that the shelter ran out of housing space (over crowding/over population) or maybe the animal had a treatment plan that was not “fiscally responsible” (such as Bart’s eye enucleation, which is a tale for another day) or they were surrendered back to the shelter and were simply “given up on”.
Bart is a typical four year old little boy — he loves to play, snuggle and be all around ornery but he is considered “specially-abled”! Why you may ask? Bart is missing his left eye! As a kitten Bart had a vicious upper respiratory infection that went untreated (while he was a stray kitten) that unfortunately made his left eye rupture and his right eye become ulcerated (he can see but it is limited).
Besides Bart missing his left eye what other remnants stem from his early days of an untreated upper respiratory infection and feline herpesvirus? Nothing. From time to time he will be a “booger monster” and have a few crusties by his nostrils (and sometimes will sneeze) but aside from that he is completely and totally normal! Bart has to have no special accommodations for his “special ability” (other than the common courtesy of not re-arranging the furniture without consulting him first!) Sometimes (rarely) when Bart is rushing and in a hurry to get around he may accidentally run into something (or someone!) but it does not slow him down or hinder his ability to run, play and occasionally be a pest to his brothers!
Bart is apart of the group that is helping to bust down the stigma that surrounds specially-abled animals! We are honoring specially-abled animals on this special and imperative holiday (#Specially-AbledAnimalsDay)! We are stopping the stigma for the specially-abled! Help us by telling YOUR pet’s story of how they are specially-abled!
This cat wheelchair is for all the kitty cats out there in the world who are missing one or both of their hind legs, or for those with crippled or paralyzed hind legs. Our goal was to build a wheelchair, for disabled cats, that is just as effective, and more affordable than other wheelchairs on the market. Many cat wheelchairs on the market can cost upwards of one hundred dollars. Ours cost us around twenty dollars.
Bolt and washers
First cut two 15 inch pieces of PVC pipe.
Cut PVC pipes to a height of 9 inch (including the 90 degree t-junction)
Connect your pipes to form a U shape
Cut the height pieces to 1.5 inch length and add the new connector pieces for the cat to rest it’s back legs.
Cut axle shield 6 inches
Insert bolts in the hole of the axle and apply necessary amount of washers to those bolts
Drill a small hole into the sides -1/2 in back from front- and dremel the hole to the desired width
Connect axle shield and t-junctions to the U shaped pieces from earlier
Take wheels and screw them onto the bolts
Place cat in harness
Route sweatshirt string through cat harness and run through holes drilled in step 7
Have fun with your little critter and his new found freedom
We have received lots of messages pertaining to cerebellar hypoplasia pets & pet insurance and unfortunately we have not been able to find a pet insurance that would cover “CH” pets! Below is listed a chart courtesy of DVM360 that shows the top pet insurance companies and breaks down the “dirty details” of each insurance company.
Upon speaking to one of the pet insurance companies “Figo Pet Insurance” I kindly asked them to specify their “pre-existing policy” and how this pertains to cerebellar hypoplasia pets.
“Cerebellar hypoplasia will be considered a pre-existing condition even though the pet is born with it unless it happens to not show signs or symptoms until after the pet has a policy. The earliest you can insure a pet is 8 weeks old and we have a 14 day waiting period for illnesses. In order for the cerebellar hypoplasia to be covered, there would need to not be any signs or symptoms until the pet was at least 10 weeks old…”
I then asked Figo Pet insurance about “accidents or illnesses” [Figo Pet Insurance states that you can still get pet insurance for a CH pet BUT any illnesses/injuries that could be related to CH would NOT be covered by pet insurance] so I asked them to clarify that.
“We base all coverage off of the medical records your veterinarian provides. With CH the coverage will heavily depend on if your veterinarian feels the accident or illness is related to the CH. For example, if your vet states “CH caused pet to fall over and break tooth” it would be considered due to a pre-existing condition. If your vet states that there is a broken tooth and does not consider it due to the pre-existing CH then it could be covered We could also offer coverage for other accidents or illnesses that your vet deems unrelated to the CH like urinary issues, allergies, diabetes, or cancers…”
So the jury is still out on pet insurance! In our opinion we feel that the pet insurance companies will try to connect any injury/illness to CH (thus the pet insurance not covering the bill for!) so personally we feel it is not worth having your CH baby on pet insurance but always stress to do your homework! If you are looking into insurance for your CH pet contact them directly and ask questions pertaining strictly to cerebellar hypoplasia!
We recommend looking into Care Credit (www.carecredit.com) which is sort of like a credit card that you can only use at the veterinarian’s office (or you can personally use it also! I recently used my care credit at the dentist office!)
Can you imagine this sweet, genuine, affectionate, absolute pure face being returned to the cat shelter three separate times? THREE?!
Image him after return to the shelter #1 (the family was “going on vacation and did not want to be bothered with Bifford anymore, as per their surrender form) as he is placed back into the “general population” of other cats equally awaiting their forever homes as Bifford watches the doorway…patiently waiting for his “people” to return to get him. As the tock ticks by with each minute Bifford’s heart sinks just a little more as eventually he realizes they are not coming back for him. They tossed him away as if he was some disposable, inanimate object without a care in the world. Bifford perks up every single time the doorknob twists as he waits with anticipation for it to be “his people” only to be disappointed every single time.
Top that off with the fact that Bifford is not as fast nor nimble as the other cats so every time he attempts to bobble into the litter box and concentrate with all of his might, every time its “feeding time” and the large bowls of kibble are placed for a “come and get it” meal time, every time a prospective family enters the room he is promptly knocked over by the swarms of other eager cats, bullied by some of the “top dogs” of the room and becomes more reclusive — hiding in the corner of the room where he felt most safe with the wall to his back and his eyes always watching to ensure he is not randomly sought out by a room bully for a match that would be less than fair of a fight.
This is why I will forever stress to families to (if you are able to) volunteer to foster any prospective adoptive pets! Bifford would (sadly) not have stuck out in a room full of eager cats that maul you in affection as soon as you hit the shelter doorway, meowing and rubbing on your leg in an attempt to yell “pick me pick me! Couple this with the fact that he is a black cat (which sadly, statistically are not on the top favorites to adopt due to the reason they do not show up on “selfies” well — I will post this article reflecting this in an upcoming post).
Bifford came to me by chance. He was getting bullied at the shelter and was not really coming out from his hiding place. The shelter was concerned about him and felt he was simply not thriving in the shelter environment and felt a temporary foster home away from the shelter would do him some good and I am inclined to agree (look at the above photos of him at the shelter versus him at home — the results speak for themselves!).
I urge you to give those “not so eager” pets waiting for their forever homes in rescues, shelters and pounds a fair chance! Despite the fact that they are not mauling you in affection in a shelter setting does not mean they will not be a totally different pet once you get them into your home and give them an opportunity!
Bart came to my house the late summer/early fall of 2017 from a local veterinary clinic where a friend worked who called me in a panic one afternoon alerting me to “two small sick kittens that were dumped off at the clinic” — a small, yet affectionate calico (we later named Taloola) and a terrified, mousey black kitten (who later became Bart) both were riddled with fleas and both had a RAGING upper respiratory infection that caused their eyes to be crusted shut with thick greenish yellow discharge as well as sneezing/audible breathing and the occasion booger bubble.
My friend informed me that the smaller black kitten seemed to have suffered the most damage — coming to them with a broken back leg (they suspect something attempted to eat him judging by the puncture wounds matching up with the now healing break), a hernia and his left eye had ruptured totally – no doubt due to the ongoing, untreated upper respiratory they both were suffering.
My friend prepared me for the worst when it came to the little black kitten – she informed me that he was not nice or affectionate and anyone that adopted him would have to understand and agree that he would just simply “live” out his days within the home and may never actually warm up to people. The veterinary clinic agreed to continue medical care/vaccinations and eventually “fixing” them both just as long as I agreed to foster them temporarily.
Reluctantly I agreed. Something in my gut was pulling me towards that sick, meek little black kitten that cowered beyond belief anytime anyone remotely came near him.
Luckily I went with my gut because it paid off in the end (mainly for Bart as he is now living his absolute best and happiest life!).
The veterinarian at this clinic did not believe Bart’s eye had ruptured yet (when indeed, it had) so they attempted to have me continue to place eye ointment on an eye that no longer was there (it was losing pressure quickly and seeped constantly) as well as a menagerie of antibiotics to help combat the gnarly URI he had (Taloola at this point had healed up nicely without any issue or chronic complications & now lives with her forever home not far from where we live!) all without any improvement or success.
When it came time to neuter Bart I brought him back to the veterinary clinic he had originally been dumped off at (the clinic that had agreed to assume all veterinary/medical care for BOTH Bart & Taloola) only to be informed that his bloodwork was showing his white blood cell count was well over 30,000 (a normal, healthy cats white blood cell count is roughly 4,900 to 20,00 depending on the cat’s age etc.) which indicated he had an infection “somewhere” and they were unable to neuter him.
Frustrated. I told them I could pinpoint where the infection was- his left ruptured eyeball. It needed to come out or that infection would continue to drain and he would never improve and his respiratory symptoms would continue without fail.
This particular veterinarian (who again, may I stress agreed upon me fostering these kittens to assume all veterinary/medical care for them) looked over the scared, miserable looking kitten only to reply to my infection discovery with, “we feel that since this kitten is simply a stray, it is financially irresponsible for us to remove that eyeball and with his bloodwork indicating an infection we also do not feel it best to neuter him either…”
Friends believe me when I tell you that as he was explaining that since this was “no one’s cat” and simply a “stray” that his clinic refused to care for the clearly obvious issue — something they had agreed they would do upon my acceptance to foster these two kittens — I saw RED.
At that point I had decided that this sad, sorry looking little black kitten was going to be MY KITTEN. It did not matter to me that he did not want to play or be affectionate. It did not matter to me that he hid most of the time and the only time I was able to corral him out from under the bed was when my husband and I played “defense” with a yard stick and a broom handle and gently coaxed him out from his hiding spot while the other prepared to grab him — all that mattered was that he was now SOMEONES’S CAT and would never have to worry again about where his next meal came from or if he would receive quality medical care or the fact he could no longer be written off as “simply a stray”. Bart was now MY cat and my newest addition to the ragtag band of misfits I had at home to love and care for.
[Needless to say Bart NEVER, EVER went back to the above mentioned veterinary clinic]
Eventually, EVENTUALLY Bart was able to get neutered (his hernia repaired while they neutered him) and his left eye removed (or the tattered remains of his left eye) and after a long, long road (with said veterinarian who removed his left eye “accidentally” leaving in his eye socket a piece of gauze and suture material so that eventually had to be corrected) he is now a happy, healthy, sweet, affectionate, ornery kitten who put his rough and rocky start to life behind him only to see better, loving and snack filled days ahead of him.
Bart was a “broken” black kitten with no type of personality or affection thus he was simply written off as just another stray, another hopeless and worthless cause but all he needed was for someone to be HIS advocate. For someone to not give up on him and to be soft spoken, compassionate, patient and kind with him. In time (and thousands of snackies later…) Bart realized that my husband and I were “OK people” and truly cared for his health and well-being. Bart then began to come up for cuddle time- with zero regards to personal space he would climb on top of your chest while you were in bed and sandwich his sweet little face against yours as he purred the most audible, soothing, sweet and satisfying purr one has ever heard before.
Bart has no idea that he is part of the “handicat” duo I affectionately rave about to anyone who will listen, in fact Bart is no different than my other cats living at home with us – he eats and drinks without issue, he runs and plays and has “question marks” (where his tail curls up into what looks like a question mark — this is how my husband and I know he is going to be the most playful/ornery) and I really believe he has NO clue that he should have two eyes instead of simply one (due to the severe URI he had suffered that caused his left eye to rupture but also left severe scar tissue covering his right eyeball. The veterinarian he see’s now and LOVES believes that Bart can see a little bit though how clearly he can see is up for debate).
Bart is part of the inspiration for “Bifford for President” because for as many adversities as Bifford has endured in his life Bart has battled just as many (if not more) and he is only four years old (Bifford is ten years old) and despite (at the time) not being “anyone’s cat” and “just a stray” he was still entitled to the SAME quality of care and standards of a cat who was not a stray and had a home. Bart is a living being worthy of good quality care and a good quality life. Between both of my “handicats” I had work to do as far as education & advocacy went (sadly enough most of my work focuses on veterinary clinics/staff that seem misinformed or upholding the stigma that surrounds these sweet babies).
Bart is the reason. Bart is MY reason why I stress to families to give that scared, sad kitten/cat a chance! If I would have looked at Bart that very first time and made a snap judgement then I would not have taken him home most likely. I had early on admitted to my husband that Bart was most likely going to be our “cellar dweller” – not wanting to be near us, not being affectionate or a “normal kitten” I had made it up in my mind that if he was okay not wanting our attention and spending his days hiding under furniture at least he was safe, indoors and getting regular meals and a nice warm bed in addition to regular, gold standard veterinary care.
Bart had proved me wrong and continued to inspire me to advocate and rally for these babies – the “broken” or the “scared”.
So I ask you to keep “fighting the good fight” when it comes to specially-abled animals! Be their voice! Speak up and speak out against any atrocities or ill informed stigma that envelope these sweet, special babies… you might be surprised to find your next animal “soulmate” waiting for you!