Special Needs Pets Represent the Best of Humanity


It’s not an exaggeration to say that the internet loves special needs pets. Dogs like Marnie, Turboroo, Squish, and Sunny have become Instagram stars and some of the platform’s most followed animals. It’s easy to see why. There’s something uniquely endearing about them. Yes, they’re cute, you root for them as the underdog, and feel drawn to them in a protective, gotta help, sort of way. But their impact extends way beyond sweet faces on our feeds.

As the wave of internet famous special needs pets grows, the trend is having real world impacts on adoption, breeding, and pet care. As well as reminding us that maybe the world isn’t such a bad place after all.


Special Needs Pets Are Changing Adoption for the Better

Last year photos of Narwhal, a puppy born with an extra tail growing out of his head, went viral. Not only did Narwhal generate countless articles, but he also attracted hundreds of adoption offers. People all over the world were climbing over each other to give the unusual dog a home. In the end Narwhal was taken in by one of the co-founders of Mac’s Mission–the Missouri organisation that rescues special needs pets where he was originally dropped off. But his viral popularity still resulted in donations, attention, and thousands of Facebook likes for the group.

Narwhal is a great example of how the attention given to famous animals can lead to other positive impacts. The popularity of pets online has already been shown to drive adoption rates in general. Ironically, while special needs pets traditionally can struggle to find a new home, many of the most famous online animal stars were rescues. In Marnie’s case, her age and physical issues first presented a barrier to finding a new home, but ultimately made her one of the most famous pets in the world.

Let’s just pause to say you should never get a pet purely in the hopes of them going viral. But cases like Marnie do make an impact. When fans see her enjoying a happy, healthy life it displaces misconceptions around adoption (of special needs and able bodied pets) being hard and complex. Ultimately showing that adopting a pet who needs a bit of extra care doesn’t have to be a drastically life-altering choice.


Changing Ideas about Life with Dogs

As mentioned, several of the world’s most famous special needs or older pets started life in shelters. In many cases they were surrendered by people who didn’t think they’d be able to look after them as they aged or manage their healthcare needs. Those fears are understandable; especially considering that we have a pretty fixed idea about what a life with dogs looks like. The stereotype–presented through dog products, TV, movies, and literally ever advertisement ever–shows an idealistic picture. It’s all hiking, throwing Frisbees, glossy coats, and wet noses. Pre-social media you rarely saw dogs who looked different, let alone ones having a great time.

But the value of seeing different experiences of pets and pet ownership means people are less regimented when thinking about the future of their pet. While no one would ever wish for their dog to have an accident or get sick, seeing dogs like Scooty adapt to life after accidents and still have a lot of fun is powerful and inspires owners to stick with their pets through thick and thin.


Body Positivity Is Important for Dogs Too

Only seeing pictures of beautiful dogs creates unconscious ideas about what all dogs should look like. This can have really negative impacts when combined with breeding cultures that fetishise certain aspects of dogs’ looks. Taken to the extreme, this trend of treating dogs like aesthetic accessories can lead to irresponsible practices as people lust after the “perfect” dog. The impacts of this are well documented, from Frenchies with breathing problems to spaniels with skull malformations.

Everyone wants a healthy pet, but special needs animals do remind us that being less than perfect can have its own charms, and widen our view of how animals should look.


Special Needs Pets Bring out the Best in Us

Indulge us as we get sentimental for a moment. Reading the stories of special needs pets and their owners is a crash course in how much people love their animals and how far they’re willing to go to help them have a happy life.

But the pets themselves can be pretty inspiring. These animals are beyond resilient, and demonstrate an incredible capacity to overcome trauma, pain, and abuse. Last year Buzzfeed asked readers to share how their special needs pet changed their life. The replies were heartbreaking in the best way. Owners responded with stories of their pets showing them how to be brave, positive, forgiving and seek pleasure in the little things. We often talk about how the relationships we have with our pets reflect our own thoughts and feelings. In the case of our growing obsession with special needs pets, that means reminding us how life changing a little kindness can be. 

For more feel good reads check out:

Dogs Are Pretty Much Addicted to Falling in Love

Study Finds Sleeping with a Dog Is Better than Sleeping with a Person Or Cat

Dogs Make You More Confident and Attractive to Hot Strangers

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Lead image via @porkchopandpistachio

Written by on for Off The Leash

Article last updated on February 15, 2022

Wendy's never met a dog she didn't like. Although she has a special place in her heart for muts: three legs, one eye, missing fur, bit of a weird walk? The scruffier the better. Her favourite dog in the whole world though is her terrier-mix Stevie.
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