3 Things NOT to Say to a Special Needs Pet Parent

As a “mom” to special needs cats, I am pretty used to the myriad of reactions I get from people when they see or hear about Sophie or Sassy. Some are positive and excited, some are inquisitive and interested, some are confused and unsure, and some are just downright rude. Believe me, I’ve heard it all. I’m aware that many people may not realize they are being rude when they ask the questions they ask or say the things they say. I just wish they would take a second to think before they speak. Being a special needs pet parent isn’t always easy, and it’s not made any easier by rude people.

3 Things NOT to Say to a Special Needs Pet Parent

1. “What’s wrong with your cat?”

This is probably the most common question I get, usually in reference to Sophie and her wobbly walk. Most of the time the question is harmless; however, other times it is asked in a snide tone of voice. No matter the implied tone of the question, the answer is always the same – to me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with my cat. She is just different. She has a special feature called cerebellar hypoplasia!

What could you say instead? Try, “Why does your cat walk like that?” or “Does your cat have an injury or special condition?” Or just lose the rude tone of voice.

Don’t get me wrong, I love when people ask me about Sophie. It gives me an opportunity to educate and raise awareness for CH cats and special needs animals in general. I just wish that people would be more tactful about the way they ask.

2. “Poor thing…”

There is absolutely no need to feel sorry for Sophie. She was born the way she is and doesn’t know any different. High-stepping, walking in curvy lines, head bobs, and randomly falling over are her normal. She doesn’t let these things bother her, so why should they bother you? Sophie is actually one of the happiest animals I’ve ever known. She is loved, she is well cared for, she can do anything she puts her mind to, and she is spoiled rotten. There is nothing poor or pitiful about her. I am also not cruel for giving her the wonderful life she has.

Please stop assuming that because Sophie has CH and walks funny that she is miserable, or that I am a terrible person for making her “suffer” through life. The only suffering Sophie knows is that of a “hungry” kitty who wishes she was fed 10 times a day instead of just 3 😉

3. “Why bother?”

Milton and Me
Milton & Me

I get that some people don’t understand why anyone would care for a special-needs animal. It’s true, they generally do require at least a bit of extra care and attention and may not live as long. When there are so many “normal” pets out there that need homes, why choose to adopt one that is sick, disabled, or just “different?” The answer is simple. These sick, disabled, and “different” pets need homes and love just as much as, if not more than, all the “normal” ones.

When we adopted Milton last summer, with all of his birth defects and issues, knowing that we probably wouldn’t have much time with him, a coworker asked me why I would choose to adopt him, saying that I was just setting myself up for heartbreak. I knew that I was most likely going to end up with a broken heart. But it wasn’t about me. It was about him. Milton needed a loving home. He deserved a loving home. Sure, Milton didn’t make it more than a week with us, and yes, my heart was shattered when he passed. But it was worth it. Being able to give Milton the the home he deserved, knowing that he left this earth loved, and getting to experience Milton’s sweet love was well worth the heartbreak at the end.

I’m not saying all of this to make it seem like I’m some amazing person for adopting special-needs cats. Because I’m not. I’m just a regular person who happens to understand something that everyone should understand: that those who are disabled or different deserve love too.

So why do I bother? Because special-needs animals are awesome. They will brighten your home, teach you life lessons, and give more love than you could ever imagine.


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By Emily

51 Comments

  1. Reply

    Summer

    When my human first met Sophie, do you know what she thought? “That is the sweetest, loveliest kitty – just like I imagined her!” (It practically made me jealous, MOL!) I think EVERYBODY should think that when they meet Sophie, because that is exactly what she is. Sometimes the way humans see other creatures only highlights their own limitations, not that of the critter they are looking at.

    1. Reply

      Sherry

      Emily,
      You are indeed “Amazing”!
      There is nothing simply “Regular” about you. You are a remarkable young woman with a plethora of unconditional love. I know how much you like that word.
      You were a sweet, sensitive child and have grown up to be a very special person. I am so proud of you.

  2. Reply

    Lone Star Cats

    We had all kinds of rude comments when my woofie sisfur got paralyzed in her back legs, including people telling momma to “put her out of her misery.” Some people really need to think before they speak.

  3. Reply

    Random Felines

    so well said….it is true that people will say things – sometimes on purpose sometimes unintentional – that are hurtful. ALL pets need good homes and it is wonderful to see people step up to take those that may need a little extra care.

  4. Reply

    Tamago

    It’s a wonderful post, Emily! We readers here know how happy Sophie is. There is nothing poor about her. And Milton – I’m so grateful he had a wonderful forever home. Though it was short, his life was full of love. xo

  5. Reply

    Melissa & Mudpie

    What an absolutely purr-fect post! It really is amazing how rude some people can be. Would you say such things to the parent of a disabled child??? Your Sophie is a wonder in every way, and I will always remember how precious Milton made my heart melt. I never met him but I cried when you lost him.

  6. Reply

    Tonya Wilhelm

    Great post! I love the way you help give us ideas on how better to ask about your kitties or other pets with special needs. Dexter uses a stroller when he’s tired and I often get the look, or “he’s so spoiled”. When in reality, his body just can’t keep up and he still enjoys being out with the family. Great post.

  7. Reply

    Madi and Mom

    Proof positive some folks need to engage their brain before the open their mouth.
    Hugs madi and MOM

  8. Reply

    Debbie

    Such a great post! I’m sorry people can be so thoughtless and inconsiderate. I think to way too many people, pets are “just animals” and they already take the easy road with them, giving them the bare minimum to keep them alive, and those people can’t understand doing anything extra for a “special” animal. I’m glad your babies found you and that you don’t see their special needs as a limitation. 🙂

  9. Reply

    Nichole

    Great post… whether special needs or just up there in age, I HATE hearing “poor thing.”

  10. Reply

    da tabbies o trout towne

    guyz…a pawz a paws a pawzzzzzzzzzzzz two yur mom for thiz post;

    how her handlez herself….. N how her handlez de azz buttz her encounterz… iz amazing …honest ta cod

    de food servizz gurls gram paw waz an amputee with paralysis N her noes what yur mom meenz bout peepulz openin ther mouthz…. N de *^&@# that comez outta em ~
    ♥♥

  11. Reply

    Caren Gittleman

    This was a wonderful and much needed post! I know Cody isn’t a “special needs” cat, but he was born with an unusual mouth (as you probably noticed). I absolutely HATE when people (and someone did it recently), say “What is wrong with his mouth?” In my eyes there is NOTHING wrong with his mouth, yes, it is unusual, but it is HIS and helps to make him the unique kitty that he is. (((hugs)))

  12. Reply

    Tina Barbour

    Wonderful post! There is nothing “wrong” with special needs pets, as you stated so well.

  13. Reply

    Talent Hounds

    I think there are probably a lot of people who could benefit from reading this post. I agree that special needs pets add so much life and love to our lives! Some things I think we should say to special needs pet parents are: “Thank you”, “I support you” and “Your animals are purrfect just the way they are!”

  14. Reply

    Jana Rade

    We’ve had our share of unwelcome comments just when Jasmine was walking around shaved after treatments. People need to hold their tongues when they don’t have anything positive to say.

  15. Reply

    Three Chatty Cats

    So well said! And number three, I can’t even imagine someone would say that. Some people just don’t get it. But I’m glad there are people out there like you who step up and care for these precious kitties.

  16. Reply

    Anita Aurit

    The “why bother” or “how much money are you going to spend on that animal”? are the worst. Our beloved Miss P. lived 18 happy and healthy years with asthma but there were costs, emotional and financial and it was all worth it!

  17. Reply

    Ruth Epstein

    I think many people do not think before they speak and say these awful things, it is the same has having a special needs kids, I have heard parents make remarks that cause me to cringe. You are amazing Mom, not judgmental and that is all that counts

  18. Reply

    Karen Lucas

    Well I say good for you and for your wonderful kitties and never mind people who don’t have big enough hearts to understand. You and your kitties are special and that’s what’s important

  19. Reply

    Hindy Pearson

    It is impossible for me to comprehend the ignorance around us, so thanks very much for sharing this lovely post. The fact that someone can actually say “why bother” makes the mind boggle. Of course you’re going to be heartbroken, but how beautiful to offer a home to an animal in need. Your compassion allowed him to know love for as long as he was with you, and what could be better than that for the soul.

  20. Reply

    Beth Patterson

    What a wonderful post! I’m sorry that people say things without thinking sometimes. My cat is different, but he is happy. He was a stray that had a mystery illness or neurological event and has never been the same since.

  21. Reply

    Dash Kitten Crew

    BRILLIANT POST! * hugs Sophie and Emily *

    The first is genuinely tactless (and plain stupid but… people can do so…) The other two are pure “WTF” Why bother?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!! I know people would ask that about us taking on Dusty (old, fragile, frail) but, personally, I would break a few jaws (I have a short temper with idiots…)

    I would take a Sophie above another cat, I would take a deaf or blind cat. I would do exactly the same as you – ( I still remember little Milton…). They are special, and they need us to fight their corner – which we do with sharp claws, sharper teeth and compassionate voices.

  22. Reply

    Kitties Blue

    Emily, this is an excellent and heartfelt post. After meeting and spending time with Sophie, I know how happy and loved she is. And, it is true, this is all she has ever known. Unfortunately, in our society, people can be cruel and heartless. Those with children with special needs endure it everyday as well. No matter what you say, it does take someone special to adopt a special needs pet. Not everyone has the patience or love in their heart. Thank you for being one of those special people. Astrid sends a bazillion kisses and all her love to her wonderful husband. XOCK, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Angel Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth, Calista Jo and Cooper Murphy

  23. Reply

    mommakatandherbearcat

    What a beautiful tribute to kitties of all stripes and varieties! You do such an incredible job of educating people – I’ve learned so much. Thank you!

  24. Reply

    Ellen Pilch

    Great post, excellent advice.

  25. Reply

    Joely Smith

    To me, Why Bother is the WORST! That type of person has no place in my life or my pets.

    Now I will admit, I may be the type to say “Poor thing” but it is NO indication that the pet is unloved, or not taken care of. I am just very sensitive and wish every pet, animal, and person on this planet could be 100% healthy 100% of the time in every way possible. As a mom to a disabled daughter, having my own disabilities, and my Lyla pup who has physical issues, I think I would say that because I know the hard work that goes into having daily medical issues, both for the pet, person, and caretaker.

    “what’s wrong with your cat” yeah I have got that regarding my daughter when she was younger. I even had a person that worked at a store say to her in a mean voice “stop walking like that!” Boy that did not go over well for them! I understand to a point however that people just do not know how to approach some situations. Isn’t this why we like animals more than people anyway lol

  26. Reply

    Cathy Armato

    Very well said! I don’t know why some people don’t think it’s worth it to adopt a pet that needs just a bit more care. Makes no sense. Your cats have an amazing, adventurous life! They’re pretty awesome.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  27. Reply

    Mimi Baker

    I have had many similar comments with my special needs crew. I even had an aunt who asked “do you not believe in euthanasia?” Well yes, as a matter of fact as a veterinary technician, I do, WHEN an animal is suffering. Our babies have many issues but all are happy and healthy within their managed issues. They lead a life full of love and joy. I try very hard not to let the thoughtless people get to me though. Most people love and respect what we do.

  28. Reply

    Brian Frum

    Pardon me for saying so, but rude people like that…isn’t that why they make duct tape? Purrsonally, we all think you rock and special needs might mean they need something extra but they are special indeed.

  29. Reply

    Savannah's Paw Tracks

    Dear Miss Emily. Not one heart beat you give to any special needs companion animal is a lost beat. What you get back is a heart overflowing with compassion, love and the feeling you, as a human, are special. This blog post is from your heart Miss Emily and I know that cuz Mom L met you and Sophie. She never once thought any of those rude human thoughts cuz Sophie looked like any other happy kitty livin’ her life LOUD! You gave her the safe space to do that. And Milton, well if I would allow Mom L to bring another kitty into our home, even to foster, she would do that…and would have taken Milton. No heart breaks, it may fracture, but the love you gave comes right back to mend it. purrs and paw pats, Nana aka Savannah

  30. Reply

    Katherine Lee

    This is beautifully written. And yes, you are a wonderful mom to be true to your kids. They all deserve love and someone that won’t give up on them when times get tough or they’re different, or change.

    I have a girl who was born partially blind with bilateral cateracts and progressive retinal atrophy, who now, at going on 15 years old, has since lost all vision several years ago. She’s still my little girl, and still loves to be pet, held, groomed by the other cats, play with catnip toys, and chasing rattling feathery toys on a pole.

    It is more than degrading and infuriating when someone suggests I just give up on her. She’s my daughter, as all my cats are my kids. And it isn’t just special needs people don’t understand, it’s love and loyalty in general. The moment I tell someone I spent over $2,000 on several ocassions for my elderly kids, I get one of two responses: one, you are an amazing cat mom, or two, “Why bother?” implying “Who cares?”. Well, I’m their mom, and I do. They do. The other cats who cuddle with them at night do. Their doctors do. Their (family) cares, and that’s all that matters in the end, that you have a family that loves and cares about you, and will do whatever they can to keep you healthy, happy, loved, safe, and comfortable, until it’s not possible anymore. And yet we still try at the end just to be sure we did absolutely everything we could.

    I just wish more people understood this and expanded their comprehension of love. Knowing the love of a pet (child) can’t be described, except to say it is awe-inspiring, humbling, heart-warming, and at the end,bitter-sweet, but we cherish having been honored to have been part of that family.

  31. Reply

    Dolly the Doxie

    Well, I for one would never say those things! I am in awe of those that adopt and care for special needs pets. Love Dolly

  32. Reply

    Bryn Nowell

    I honestly don’t “get” people sometimes. It’s okay to be inquisitive. It’s okay to want to learn about you, your pet, and their specific situation. It’s not okay to question your reasoning for making a decision or for questioning the possible gain that could exist for both the pet and their parent. Thanks for reminding some folks how not to be a**holes. I’m sorry to say, the folks that need to see this probably won’t take the time to read it.

  33. Reply

    FiveSibesMom

    Emily, I so agree with you, special needs pets are amazing. As a mom of an epileptic Siberian Husky, the bond I had my my boy was so special. And I learned so much from him. And the love, so pure. I have heard these three things, and more. And often wonder people feel the need to even ask #3, which tops the list of what I’m asked. And your answer is very well said indeed! Special needs pets are very special. <3

  34. Reply

    meowmeowmans

    Wonderful post, Emily! It’s true, people need to think before they speak, and check their attitude. Special needs pets are awesome, and we think YOU and Sophie are pretty awesome, too. 🙂

  35. Reply

    Sweet Purrfections

    I think you are pretty special for what you do for special needs kitties. I’d like to believe that people don’t mean to be rude, but just don’t know how to ask or what to ask.

  36. Reply

    Sam and Teddy

    What a wonderful post Emily……I think the biggest issue with people saying the things they do is two-fold – not thinking before they open their mouths AND unfamiliarity with special needs….these same people ask these questions of humans when they are with their special needs children. You are doing your best to help people understand the SPECIAL part of being “special needs” animals and that is just what’s needed most – education. We’ll never forget the wonderful story of Milton and how your desire to improve his short little life was put well above the knowledge that he would have so little time. That my dear Emily is SPECIAL.

    Hugs, Pam

  37. Reply

    Debra Brungardt

    Lovely article! It saddens me to say it but there is a vet in our town who has euthanized pets with cerebelar hypoplasia. He said they have no quality of life. I have helped raise 4 such kittens who are healthy as any other cat. But when we had a cat come into our shelter last summer, I worked with her everyday! She was doing really well! HE (the vet) came in & said that she did not have any quality of life he signed the paper to have her euthanized! He refused to listen to me or to watch the video that proved she did very well on carpet & played like others!
    I crie for 2 days! I will forever hate that man! He refuses to be educated on issues!

  38. Reply

    Nancy Karpoff

    Love all animals as though they are perfect. Don’t see a disability but a person/cat, or dog who deserves to live and be loved. Only the ignorant is disabling. Every person and animal deserve our respect, and compassion. Feeling sorry or pitty isn’t what they want or need. Be kind!

  39. Reply

    Dear Mishu

    Great post Emily! People don’t usually mean to be hurtful but ignorant comments sure can be…

  40. Reply

    DearMishu

    Those comments can be really annoying…indeed.

  41. Reply

    The Swiss Cats

    What a wonderful post ! A must-read for everyone ! Purrs

  42. Reply

    Lola The Rescued Cat

    This is a great post, and we’re going to share it. Sometimes humans can be mean. Mommy always says people should take a breath and think before they open their mouths!

  43. Reply

    Tenacious Little Terrier

    Some people have no filter. It’s awesome you gave Milton a good home before he passed. I know someone who does hospice fostering which I imagine must be heartbreaking.

  44. Reply

    The Daily Pip

    Why bother? Oh my gosh, that’s the worst. How could anyone think that much less say it out loud.

    Years ago we rescued a cat named Daisy off the streets. She had seven kittens they all went to a shelter and we decided to keep Daisy. The first time I took her to her to the vet – the vet said (not our regular vet) “why would you want her”. He also pretty much refused to even touch her. I still can’t believe a vet would say such a horrible thing.

  45. Reply

    Pipo/Minko/MrJackFreckles

    I get reactions that are rude too, when I tell them about Minko who has become a special needs kitty. They do not think I should be ‘wasting’ my time feeding him the way I do. Sheesh, if it was their child they would want to do it, I hope??

    And these days, anyone who watched=s MJF stagger about or even keel over would think he too was in misery. But if they paid attention they would see him get up and carry on and the look on his face is: well, I meant to do that, sorry I made you have to wait for me…like when we are on a walk and he keels over into the ditch. Its like taking a drunkard on a walk, but he loves going…so off we toddle…

  46. Reply

    Robin

    I love that you have a heart for special needs kitties! Sophie is a very fun kitty. I was just talking about her to my husband the other day. He had all kinds of questions about wobbly cats. I showed him Sophie’s video and told him about how she is just a normal cat with a little bit of a wobble. No biggie! I have hand tremors. When you’ve had these issues all of your life, you find ways to deal with it.

  47. Reply

    LP

    Aplawse . Aplawse! We all wholeheartedly agree! And our Mama especially dislikes, “Poor baby” when it is said in a certain tone that excludes all the blessings the animal actually has.

    Love to everyone at your house but especially to a little kitty we call Papi. XO

  48. Reply

    The Island Cats

    Humans sure can be insensitive, though we kinda understand why someone would say “what’s wrong with your cat?” if they saw Sophie for the first time. But it’s important to educate people to make them understand that special needs animals are just that…special. 🙂

  49. Reply

    Lori

    Had three diabetic cats over the years and I remember meeting a guy from work and setting up a date. When I explained I had to go home first to give him his food and insulin he said to me “Well I wouldn’t do that “. First and last date!

  50. Reply

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