Reuse, Recycle, Rescue: Blind, Deaf, and Aged Dogs Have Joy to Give.

Reuse, Recycle, Rescue: Blind, Deaf, and Aged Dogs Have Joy to Give.

By: Staff  Date: 01/11/2012 Category: | Rescue |

Let's face it - placing rescued pets in adoptive homes is never easy. Once people are persuaded to consider a secondhand dog, their first preferences are animals that are young, beautiful, free of health problems and already well trained. In other words, they want a perfect pet! What then are rescuers to do with the many elderly dogs they encounter or those with health or personality problems? In this column, we'll look at the issues of "special needs" dogs. Although a few volunteers specialize in them, most rescues work with special needs dogs as their resources permit. Large medical expenses and length of time needed for rehabilitation can be daunting especially to groups that live hand to mouth financially.

Blindness is one of the most common disabilities encountered in rescued dogs. Linda Glass, who operates a website for blind dogs (, said that most of the doubts surrounding quality of life for these dogs are created by people's perceptions and are not experienced by the animal. On her site, she wrote that while blind dogs will not have the same life they had before they lost their sight, they still have very good lives, full of fun and happiness. Much of a dog's world is experienced through its keen senses of hearing and smell. Whether sighted or not, they still love going for walks, racing around the yard, riding in cars, playing with toys, and having their bellies rubbed. Blindness doesn't slow them down very much.

Deafness is another common problem and a source of controversy in some circles. In some breeds, for example, deafness is an inherited fault that reputable breeders have been trying to eliminate for decades. Many feel that abandoned deaf dogs should be destroyed rather than placed in new homes. This philosophy clashes with rescuers who feel otherwise and have successfully placed many deaf dogs as good family pets. The Deaf Dog Education Action Fund's website at discusses mistaken beliefs about deaf dogs and offers practical advice for training them.

Tracey Rentcome, Great Dane Rescue of Houston, Inc., successfully placed a deaf Dane into an adoptive home after teaching him hand signals. She said that rescuers should expect to foster a deaf dog longer than hearing dogs for training and socialization. Molly Moldovan of the Alaskan Malamute HELP League has also successfully placed a deaf Malamute and joked that in her breed, it's difficult to tell a hearing dog from a deaf one! Lack of socialization

Probably the most commonly encountered personality problem in rescued dogs is lack of socialization. While many surrendered family pets are surprisingly lacking in the socialization department - the result of being relegated to a chain in the back yard when their puppy cuteness wore off - the most severe cases are adult dogs rescued from puppy mills. These dogs have never seen the world outside of a cramped cage. Susan Feingold with Pet Orphans Rescue in Atlanta reported that most of these dogs have similar problems. "They're scared of all indoor house noises (telephones, envelope opening), scared to go in/out doors, scared to walk on grass, scared to go up/down stairs, scared of people coming close to them, etc." Housebreaking can also be difficult. Susan said the dogs she has worked with have taken an average of six-to-nine months of foster care before they began to "act normal." She says the keys to success in rehabilitation are patience in both the foster and adoptive homes and lots and lots of positive reinforcement.


Marian Krueger, Second Chance Boxer Rescue, feels strongly that a rescue service's duty is not just to the young and healthy. She's been known to go out of her way to seek out older dogs and those with medical problems. She reported that these dogs have been easier to place than she first imagined. "Certainly the dogs don't place as quickly as their healthy counterparts," she said, "but that's okay." She credited the web for much of this success; her group has utilized their own website ( and others for advertising and provides full disclosure of the dogs' information up front so adopters know exactly what they're getting before signing up.

Often, the only problem with elderly dogs is their age. Getting adopters to even look at an older dog can be difficult. Janice Ritter, German Shepherd Rescue of New England, Inc., reported that one of the biggest keys to success in placing the older ones is getting adopters to meet the dog. She said that when she shows dogs to approved adopters, she tries to show several and always includes a senior in the mix.

"Many times people won't specifically go to see a senior, but if they meet one that is wonderful, healthy and well-behaved vs. all the wild bouncy youngsters, they will sometimes choose the senior - and the senior is often the appropriate one for them anyway!" she said.

Susan Dunkel of North Carolina happily adopted a nine-year-old Chow Chow even though she initially wanted a younger dog because she realized that she couldn't provide the time and training that a puppy or younger dog would need. Molly Moldovan placed a 13-year- old Malamute in a similar situation.

As with seniors, Janice said the trick in placing dogs with special medical needs is getting people to meet them. She said that her group often presents these dogs to adopters as "just another dog that matches what the applicant wants - with some issues to consider." In some cases, her group has offered to share the cost of the dog's future medical expenses as an incentive to adoption. When asked if she's had any bad experiences with special needs dogs, Marian Krueger quickly exclaimed, "Other than it is really hard to let them go, not a one!"

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All Authors Of This Article: | Vicki DeGruy |
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