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Fostering and Adopting Special Needs Dogs

Courtney Bellew, founder of SNARR (Special Needs Animal Rescue & Rehabilitation) Northeast based out of Westchester County, N.Y., contacted Walkin’ Pets to see if they would donate a wheelchair to a special dog named Liberty. The Walkin’ Pets Care Squad agreed and delivered the Full Support Walkin’ Wheels to Liberty at her new foster home.

Big, beautiful heart for special needs dogs


As the Walkin’ Pets Care Squad team came to the front door of Liberty’s foster home, they were greeted by a spunky Chiweenie named Eevee. This enthusiastic greeter was in a diaper and had no use of her rear legs, but that didn’t damper her spirit one bit!

Foster mom Emily Findlay explained that she had already adopted Eevee and two other specially abled dogs into her Connecticut home. Emily and her husband set up their split level home to accommodate the dogs. Their four rescue cats also share the home with them.

Emily, who grew up in Scotland and came to the U.S. less than a year ago, has already made such a difference to so many special needs animals! She says,

“I loved animals since a very young age. I was horrifically bullied and didn’t have any friends until I was about 16, and animals were my only companions. They didn’t judge me on my looks or intelligence, so adopting them is like having my own children. These are my kids.”

Meet the family

Mr. Maury

Emily adopted Eevee and another disabled dog, Mr. Maury, through SNARR. Mr. Maury is a 10-year-old Shih Tzu with spinal disc issues. A third rescue, Minka, was adopted through Shelter Chic a couple of months earlier.

Minka is a blind fospice dog with a heart condition. A fospice dog is an animal that doesn’t have long to live and is fostered by a family who desires to give the dog whatever she needs to be comfortable and loved in her final weeks or months.

Emily’s heart seems to have no bounds. Hence, she was undaunted by the prospect of adding another dog who would clearly need extra care to the family. Emily says,

“I jumped at the chance to foster Liberty, because I thought it would be a really good challenge for me. And I wanted to understand her condition better.”

New wheels for Liberty


Liberty was rescued by SNARR from West Virginia when she was a tiny puppy. The Pit Bull mix has cerebellar hypoplasia, a condition whereby the brain isn’t fully developed, which causes shakiness. Courtney, of SNARR, says,

“There are various degrees of it. Liberty happens to be very severe. Our goal is to find Liberty a [permanent] home. It’ll be a lot easier now that she has a wheelchair. I think it’ll give her some freedom and will give her potential adopters a way to get out and about.”

Walkin’ Pets Care Squad and Liberty

The Walkin’ Pets Care Squad adjusted Liberty’s new Walkin’ Wheels dog wheelchair to suit her body just right. At approximately 18 months of age, Liberty could only stand on her own for a few brief moments before flopping over.

But wheels will solve that problem! Although getting used to being upright will likely take a little time.

Emily and Liberty

Liberty was tentative at first. Emily tempted her with treats to entice Liberty to take her first steps. With the help of her new wheelchair, Liberty’s body will get needed support.

With time, the exercise she will get in her wheelchair will give her body the chance to develop muscle mass. And Liberty will be able to experience a taste of freedom!

Watch the video to meet Emily and Courtney, and see Liberty take her first steps:

Welcoming disabled pets

Many animals start in shelters, where they are kept on site. They may have been strays, or they may have been given up by their families for various reasons. Rescues then take animals from shelters and find foster homes for them, (and eventually permanent, adoptive homes).

Minka, Emily, and Eevee

Fostering an animal means welcoming a dog or cat into your home for a limited time period. Then foster families help those animals integrate into family life, where they may be learning what living in a home is like for the first time.

Since there are more animals needing shelter than there is space for them, many get tagged for euthanasia. Consequently, special needs animals, for whom it can be harder to find adoptive homes, often fall into that category. SNARR’s mission is to rescue special needs dogs, as was the case for Liberty.

Courtney says,

“There’s so many homeless animals, and there’s just unfortunately nowhere to house all of them.”

In Emily’s case, her own experience with disabilities shaped who she is today, and helped expand her heart to embrace disabled pets into her home. Emily shares,

“When I was born I was in the hospital until the age of 5. I was around disabled people all the time. And my mom is also disabled, and I looked after her from the age of 12. So I think my love of animals, specifically disabled animals grew, because they’re exactly the same as every other dog. They’re just a bit more special — and much cuter, I think!”

Quality of life is essential

As with any dog, special needs or not, quality of life is essential. Is the dog in pain? able to enjoy life? loved? Courtney emphasizes,

“Even though we’re a special needs rescue, we always consider quality of life and never want an animal to suffer. Unfortunately, we have made tough decisions when an animal does not have a good quality of life, but despite Liberty’s major challenges, she’s a very happy girl.”

There’s no doubt that Liberty hit the jackpot in terms of a foster home. Emily cares tenderly for Liberty and the other dogs and cats in her care. They clearly occupy a special place in her heart. Emily says,

“They’re much more loving and they know that you adopted them just because you love them. You don’t feel pity for them, you just love them the way they are — and that makes them more special.”

adopt disabled rescue dog

Courtney shared a comment that a friend made years ago which left its mark on her:

“A veterinarian friend once said to me, ‘You can always euthanize an animal, but you can never un-euthanize an animal.’ It’s always rung true.”

SNARR has 45-60 dogs in foster care at any given time; they expect to save about 1,000 dogs in 2018. Their two biggest challenges are fundraising and finding foster homes. You can help: To make a donation to SNARR or to explore fostering or adopting one of their rescues, go directly to the SNARR website.

Did we answer all your questions on "fostering"?


    • Rescues are always looking for fosters, most handicapped and special needs pets are fostered locally because it can be challenging for them to travel. I would check with some rescues in your area and see if they are looking for help, especially right now! There has been a huge increase in homeless dogs due to the coronavirus and owner deaths. Many rescues (especially those in hard hit areas) are in desperate need of support from fosters. Good luck and if you need any help, let us know!

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