I’ve come across a number of handicapped animals throughout my years in the veterinary field, creatures that tackle adversity like a mere game of hopscotch. From congenital paraplegia to trauma-induced mental or physical disabilities and beyond, these animals quickly became my favorite patients.
All of these disabled individuals unknowingly act as beacons of hope and determination. They are proof that we can beat the odds. To them, disability is not a challenge; it’s just a different way of life. Here are a few inspiring individuals I’ve encountered:
- Gus, the adopted guinea pig. My knight in shining armor came in the form of a neglected, abused guinea pig I met during my college years running fundraising and adoption events at the Humane Society of Delaware County. It was a rare but documented case of love at first sight. Looking to foster a dog, the Human Society director told me jokingly there was a guinea pig inside that needed a permanent home. I didn’t even hear him finish his sentence. I laid eyes on the sassy fluff ball and quickly called my roommate to ask if it’d be okay to bring a guinea pig home. She excitedly said, “Of course!” and Gus (short for Asparagus) the guinea pig became a member of my family, traveling across the country with me for the next 4 years. Despite pre-rescue trauma that caused a head tilt, this little man became the most popular guy on Ohio Wesleyan University’s campus.
- Rocky, the paraplegic sheep. Five years have passed since Rocky the sheep came into my life. Rocky was saved from the slaughter house when his farm parents wanted to give up on him due to a birth defect that resulted in rear leg paralysis. As a lamb, Rocky came to Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation in Kendalia, TX where I worked with him over the course of my six month internship. Paralysis didn’t stop Rocky from learning to walk. He taught himself to balance on his front feet and hop along from trough to trough. By and far, he was my Hill Country favorite.
- Tortoise on wheels. One patient touched my heart by showing the incredible bond that can be formed between humans and reptiles. At Marathon Veterinary Hospital, I worked with a tortoise who had a neurological disorder which caused tremors in his back legs. His loving owners built a set of wheels for him from scratch. The tortoise’s dad visited him for hours during the patient’s bout of inpatient treatments in our hospital.
- Beata, the handicapped spider monkey. This rescued primate suffered malnutrition and spent the first few years of her life squished in a small cage. Subsequently, she could not swing from trees and developed some mental disabilities. While she was not releasable, she was a friendly free-roaming favorite around the rainforest grounds at AmaZOOnico in Ecuador.
- Gordon, the hit-by-car adopted stray dog. On Gordon Beach in Long Island, Bahamas, a group of friends and strangers united to rescue a stray dog that had been hit by a car. Severely malnourished and unable to use his back legs, we transported him to Central Animal Hospital on the main island of Nassau where he underwent months of treatment and physical therapy. Gordon is now happily frolicking back on Long Island with a wonderful island couple that adopted him.
- Sea turtles with handicaps. Nearly 50% of the sea turtles I worked with suffered handicaps: missing flippers, damaged shells, vision impairment. The vast majority of these injuries were due to human impact from causes like boat strikes, fishing or pollution. Nevertheless, sea turtles are resilient creatures, overcoming disabilities with perseverance and adorableness. Many disabled turtles can still be released into the wild after treatment. Bubble Butt (pictured above) and a number of his friends at the Turtle Hospital cannot survive in the wild, but they still manage to swim, dive and be typical turtles with a little TLC. While interning at Mote Marine Laboratory, I saw the efforts of my wildlife rehabilitation work go full circle when Beam, a non-releasable boat hit sea turtle, was adopted by the Aquarium of Boise. (You can watch the adoption promo video I made for Beam here.)
The adaptability of animals is inspiring. If you’re in need of some motivation or just need a quick pick-me-up, here’s a link to my recent article for Wide Open Pets picturing 10 handicapped pets on wheels. Beware, it’s cuteness overload.