When writing about Neville for the previous entry in this blog, I started wondering about ‘special needs’ cats. Technically, the Nevsky is rated as ‘special needs’, because of his diabetes. I have read of others who fall into the category, perhaps because of their diet, which would have included my good friend Cammie. Some cats have allergies to a few kinds of food; others, like Cammie, are allergic to almost everything. Some cats have physical handicaps or health conditions that increase concerns over them. Even the aged can be considered as ‘special needs’, if extraordinary measures are required to take care of them.
My thoughts on this subject divided themselves into parts. Firstly, I wondered just where the line is drawn for placing a cat in the special needs category. Is it when medicine needs to be regularly given, as in the case of insulin? Does it depend on the frequency of the medicine? Its availability? If a cat has trouble with its waste management and needs a gentle laxative given once or twice a week, does this count? What about a cat who is mildly over-weight, and would benefit from a reduced or particular diet? Is it the ease of management?
Secondly, if the category of ‘special needs’ indicates a cat who requires care that is different than other cats’, or a cat who wants particular vigilance over diet or activity, does this not suggest that every cat becomes a ‘special needs’ cat at some point in his life? Certainly, some, like their human counterparts, age faster than others; some remain youthful in body and spirit long after their contemporaries want merely to rest in untroubled retirement. But most will reach a stage at which their care must become characteristic of their needs.
I don’t mean to belittle the label of ‘special needs’ or the cats to whom it is applied. Clearly, some felines cannot cope without constant help or supervision. A cat whose bladder needs expressing several times a day, one who has diabetes, one who must have dietary supplements; these are indeed in need of special treatment, as are many who are afflicted with what may be seen as lesser problems. These must be distinguished from other cats not so troubled. Unfortunately, their situations will sometimes affect their adoptions from rescue-groups.
Many people do not want a pet who will limit travel plans, or family gatherings or even every day routines. They want a pet who will enhance these activities, enhance their lives. I understand that; that is natural. It is no different in human inter-relationships: few people hope to find a life-partner who will require the most work and anxiety, while costing them all their excess money and time. Yet when we commit to a relationship, we accept the possibility that, barring deliberate infliction of hardship by the other party, we will be responsible for helping our friend over any difficulties that come up. Most pet-owners do this, as well; the care many pet-owners put into their furry family-members are as much to qualify the latter for special needs in any case. The difference with adopting ‘special needs’ animals is that their complications are presented at the start.
I have three ‘special needs’ cats: two diabetics - one of whom was not when I adopted him - and one elderly. The fourth will be, God willing, elderly in his turn. I have had another diabetic, a hyperthyroid, and one with FIV. I’ve had cats develop and die of cancer. I have learned to give insulin by two different methods, take blood samples, give medicine by pill and liquid, provide subcutaneous fluids, force-feed, watch for allergic reactions, clean bums and any number of other lessons too rare or too frequent (by now) to recall. But if there is one thing above these that I have learned, it is that all cats, from the healthiest to the sickest, from the most carefree to the fussiest, are, to some extent or other, ‘special needs’. A cat requires love and attention, a warm and comfortable home, security and health. These needs may not be designated officially as special, but they require work on the part of the human, as much as injecting insulin or shopping for expensive food for a specific diet. And they are special to the cat.
So, to someone thinking of adopting a cat, perhaps for the first time, I would say consider, along with others, those with what are termed ‘special needs’, the ones who need people the most. It may be discovered that what these cats require isn’t much different than what every cat requires. Yet what is provided will make the difference between happiness and sorrow to that cat, perhaps between life and death. And it may turn out that the human will realise that he or she is receiving some special care, too.