Animal Chronicles: Special-needs animals bring special rewards

Tony, Bob (inset top) and Colby (inset bottom), all living with feline leukemia virus, are currently at the Animal Protective Foundation awaiting their forever homes. (Courtesy APF)

Tony, Bob (inset top) and Colby (inset bottom), all living with feline leukemia virus, are currently at the Animal Protective Foundation awaiting their forever homes. (Courtesy APF)

By Joe Lisella

“Can you let me know the minute a yellow Labrador puppy is surrendered?”

This was my first query to the adoptions manager I met on the first day of my animal welfare career nearly a decade ago. And, to her bemusement, it was a question I would ask regularly over the following five years.

My persistence finally paid off one day when a flurry of texts from the shelter staff let me know that my long-awaited companion had finally arrived. I put a “hold” on him immediately and couldn’t wait to meet him the following day.

Behind the scenes, our shelter veterinarian was performing the routine exam that new arrivals receive before being made available for adoption or foster care. Upon detecting a heart murmur in the 3-month-old pup, she sent him to a cardiologist for a diagnosis.

As it turned out, the puppy we had already named “Hugo” was found to have a congenital heart defect known as tricuspid valve dysplasia, a condition that eventually leads to heart failure.

With no surgical options available, we received a very jarring prognosis: Considering the severity of the murmur, Hugo could be expected to live only one to two years.

We knew that we wanted Hugo to have the best life possible, even if it was going to be shorter than expected, and we proceeded with adoption.

Nearly four years later, Hugo is, with medication, thriving and enjoying life with his two retriever siblings.

The amount of time Hugo spent in the shelter is the exception for dogs and cats with special needs, however. Sadly, they are usually the ones that wait the longest to find their forever homes.

At the Animal Protective Foundation, dozens of special-needs animals are surrendered to us each year.

One of the conditions we encounter most often is feline leukemia virus (FeLV), which affects between 2% and 3% of all cats in the United States, according to Cornell University.

Cats living with FeLV can live lives as long as any other cat and are just as deserving of a loving home. This FeLV virus is species-specific and cannot transfer to humans, dogs or other small animals.

There is no cure for FeLV, but regular veterinary visits allow for monitoring for any symptoms that would require supportive care.

If you are interested in welcoming a FeLV-positive cat into your home, it is important to prevent the spread of the virus to other cats, so they must be kept indoors. They should also live as the only cat in the home, or live only with other FeLV-positive cats.

At the APF, three of our staff favorites, Colby, Tony and Bob, are living with FeLV and are currently looking for their forever homes. They love to eat, play and snuggle just like any lovable cat. They are three of several special-needs animals waiting here for their forever families.

Speaking from experience, I can say that the rewards of adopting a special-needs pet can far outweigh the risks if you take the time to learn more about the animal’s condition.

Fortunately, the APF team loves to teach potential adopters about how easy, and rewarding, it can be to become a pet parent to a special-needs animal.

If you are interested in learning more, visit, or call 518-374-3944.

Joe Lisella is executive director at the Animal Protective Foundation, which contributes Animal Chronicles articles and welcomes animal-related questions and stories about the people and animals in our community. Visit, follow us on social media @AnimalProtectiveFoundation or email [email protected].

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