When it comes to the animals we care for in our shelter, I’m not one to play favorites. I love them all. Even the ones who don’t particularly like me back. Every once in a while though, one will slip past my emotional defenses (which, arguably are nonexistent to begin with) and melt my heart into a big goopy mess of incoherent cooing and baby talk.
Ever seen a burly 230-pound man reduced to a blubbering mess on the ground while a three legged cat crawls all over him purring like a Harley Davidson? It’s not pretty. Embarrassingly hilarious, yes. But not pretty.
This morning, a member of our crew walked into one of the cat rooms to find me sprawled out on the ground talking in high pitched gibberish at Willow, a 3-legged, tortoise shelled kitty who was answering back with rumbling purrs that vibrated so much, it felt like I had furry lawn mower running over me.
I startled the poor team member who walked in, obviously not expecting to see a grown man lying in the middle of the floor like a bounce house at a cat’s birthday party. Initially surprised, she laughed out loud and said, “Oh my God! I need to get a picture of this!” just before running out of the room, I assume to grab her camera phone.
I got up and dusted myself off, putting Willow back in her kennel and deciding we needed to get our stories straight.
“Listen, this never happened.” I said, pointing an authoritative finger at her, “I was never here, and I was most certainly NOT laying on the ground in the middle of a shelter talking baby talk at you. Got it? This is a place of business!”
She stared at me and stuck her remaining front paw between the bars to try and get to me. I assume she was extending it to shake my hand as confirmation that she understood the agreement to keep quiet. So I took it and lightly shook it.
“Deal.” I said just as I turned to leave before the team member could come back and document this little lovefest.
I initially went to go meet Willow because one of our volunteers, Mary, mentioned to me that I should. Since I don’t need to be asked twice to meet any animal, like, ever — I gladly obliged.
I had been hearing about Willow from other staff members because she’s been with us for a little while now. When she came in, she was in pretty bad shape. She had multiple puncture wounds from an animal attack of some sort, and couldn’t bear any weight on one of her front legs. Our medical team leaped into immediate action to tend to her wounds and get her stabilized.
In the end, the wounds to her front leg were so bad, they needed to amputate it. Since her surgery, she’s been recovering at the shelter and charming the heck out of our staff and volunteers with her friendly, playful, confident nature. Now that she’s healed up, she’s looking for her furever home.
Three-legged pets are often referred to as “Tripawds” — and are some of the best, most resilient pets you could have. It’s no secret that animals are highly adaptable and can adjust to their new situation with grace and enthusiasm. So much so that most people who have a tripawd pet forget that there is a handicap in the first place.
In fact, whether your pet has four legs or three, they can live a totally normal life in most ways as long as you can manage their environment in a few simple, yet important ways:
- Watch their weight. Although every pet should maintain a healthy weight, three-legged pets in particular shouldn’t be allowed to become obese. Tripod pets have a higher risk of developing arthritis because they have fewer limbs to distribute their weight, so becoming overweight can be uncomfortable, unhealthy, and downright dangerous.
- A bed makes all the difference. Tripod pets are at a greater risk of developing hygromas, particularly on their elbows. Hygromas are fluid-filled swellings that can develop on the elbow, hip, or hock of pets. They develop after repeated trauma to the same area and from laying on hard surfaces. Although typically not painful unless they become infected, they are annoying for your pet and can be prevented. Investing in a good bed for your pet can help relieve joint stress and pressure on their elbows.
- Ramp it up! A cat who once had a favorite high place may have difficulty jumping that high after their amputation. Make it easier for them by installing ramps around your house for your cat to easily change levels as desired.
- Speaking of stairs…Stairs can be a scary thing for a tripod pet. Be patient, assist them when necessary, and go at their pace. They make special harnesses for tripod pets so that you can easily assist them with challenging things like going down the stairs or getting into a car if necessary.
- Take care of the pads. Protecting the pad that takes the majority of the weight is essential to your pet’s comfort and their health. Moisturize, clean, and trim the remaining paw pad and nails so that your pet remains comfortable and their paw pads don’t become painfully cracked.
- Protect the remaining limbs. Keep exercise at a reasonable level so as to not overwork their remaining limbs and cause stress.
- Get behind the wheels. Depending on your pet’s age and energy level, investing in a wheelchair or wheels might be a good option to help with their mobility. There are many different styles and options to choose from depending on your pet’s size and specific needs.
See? Easy peasy. Now that you know how easy it can be to care for a tripawd, consider Willow as your new best friend. It would really help me out if we found her a home sooner rather than later. Eventually someone is going to snap a picture of me playing with her on the ground in the Neely Cat Center — and honestly, no one needs to see that.