We met a ton of amazing pets at PetCon, but the special needs dogs were some of the most remarkable. All have managed to overcome pretty big challenges, thanks to their loving and patient parents. These extraordinary pups have gone on to not only be adored by hundreds of thousands of people across the globe, but have also inspired other special needs animals and humans to continue pushing past the adversity they face on a daily basis.
Here are some of the incredible pets and pet parents that we spoke with at PetCon 2019 in New York City:
PetPlace: We know that Brussels Sprout was diagnosed with a rare disease, can you tell us more about it?
Sigrid: Yes, he has a Chiari-like malformation and Syringomyelia.
PP: And what is something that you would want people to know about his condition?
S: It’s incurable, but if it’s caught early, it’s treatable. We were able to catch it early so he’s in no pain. I would say that it’s a fine balance of noticing the symptoms, because a lot of it involves things that dogs normally do–like scratching, shaking their head, biting at their paws–so symptoms can often be mistaken for allergies. Many times it actually is allergies, so bringing it to the vet as soon as you notice it is really the best thing to do. For us, we noticed that many of these symptoms seemed patterned, so it was almost a little bit excessive, or kind of neurotic when he was doing these things, so that was a sign for me that he had a bigger problem. But we were able to catch it early and he’s on medicine now. He hasn’t had any side effects from it, so it feels like something that is behind us, because we don’t think about it on a daily basis. It’s basically like a human living with high blood pressure–it becomes something you take medication for and monitor, but it doesn’t affect the day-to-day.
PP: That’s so great! We love you, Brussels Sprout! So, tell me, how does it feel having an Instagram famous dog?
S: It feels good, it’s fun! We get to make a lot of people smile. I don’t think he actually knows he’s famous, he just thinks he’s a good dog who gets a lot of treats.
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PetPlace: Super Scooty is so special, we know that she was hit by a car in Mexico, but how did you find her?
Erica: She came from a pretty impoverished shelter down in Mexico and I came across a plea for getting some of these dogs out of the shelter, because they were in pretty bad shape. She was one of the main stories they were using to spread awareness for the dire situation in the shelter, probably because at the time she required 24-hour care. And I don’t know why I thought I was the perfect person to do that, but I decided instead of just donating money I would adopt her. I had no idea what it would take to adopt a special needs dog. I didn’t really understand spinal cord injuries, which come with incontinence and all sorts of other issues. So that was our biggest learning curve.
PP: And how long ago was that, that you adopted her?
E: It will be 8 years ago this February.
PP: Wow! Well it seems like she’s made major strides in her recovery since coming to live with you.
E: Oh, yeah. A lot of doctors questioned her quality of life. And back then, I don’t think dogs in wheelchairs were really a thing, so we had a lot of questions about how we would do this, but she’s literally the happiest dog I’ve ever met. She won the Happiest Dog on the Planet award a few years ago.
PP: What do you think humans can learn from her? What have you learned from caring for her?
E: My good Lord. I have learned so much about patience and unconditional love. You have to have a lot of both of those things, because you have a lot of messes to clean up, we do have to have a lot of extra care, but just because you’re different and you don’t do everything exactly the same, it doesn’t mean that your quality is diminished by any means. It’s just a different quality. I think she’s greater than most actually!
PP: She’s super!
E: Yeah, she is super! She is just the happiest dog, and I’m so lucky to have her. Everyone says how lucky she is to have me, but honestly, I am really the lucky one. She’s had a massive impact on my life, and the fact that we can do so much for other dogs and people, it’s just the most rewarding thing in the world. I can’t believe how many people have so much faith and trust in us that help us help other animals.
PP: Have you tried to help other people see the importance of adopting special needs dogs?
E: Oh, absolutely. We get messages almost every day from people who have adopted special needs dogs. I don’t get to see or respond to every message that we get, but I will always scroll through and any person who has a question about special needs dogs, I will make sure that I get back to almost immediately, because I didn’t have the resources when I was going through it–it was learning through trial and error–but I want other people to have an understanding of what they are getting into. It was a really rough road at first and I want to be able to ease that transition period for others.
PetPlace: Can you explain the name of your Instagram account?
Joanne: Our account is called For The Love of Smiley because it was originally for another dog we had who passed. But this is Sunny, and we rescued him 6 months after the passing of Smiley. He was born with the same condition as Smiley.
PP: What’s that condition called?
J: It’s called Microphthalmia. He has severe Microphthalmia and he was found in a street litter in Mexico, and we heard about him and we said that we would absolutely take him.
PP: How wonderful! So Sunny is now the second dog you’ve had that hasn’t been able to see, what has that taught you?
J: Well, Smiley taught us to see with our hearts, so that’s what we’re spreading around the world now. If everyone saw with their hearts the way these guys do, the world would be a better place.
PP: Some people might be hesitant to adopt special needs dogs. What would you tell people who are on the fence?
J: I’m proving on here that special needs dogs are still dogs, and their instincts take over for survival and they adapt–much better than we ever would. We really don’t give them enough credit, and they inspire people with disabilities to go forward and keep moving, to be fearless in the way that they are. And part of my job is to give him the confidence to be able to do that and see the world the way we do. We go around and do talks at schools, teaching kids that it’s okay to be different, that children who are born with disabilities can overcome it and achieve their dreams, and work hard towards that goal.
PetPlace: Surfing seems like a very unusual sport for a dog! Tell us how JoJo picked up the sport.
Josephine: Jojo and I were viciously attacked by two dogs in our apartment complex and Jojo needed rehab to gain mobility again after the accident. Water therapy was part of his recovery and because my husband and I love to surf, it seemed like a natural next step. Surfing was what made him go viral. Now, I get to travel the world with my best friend.
PP: What are Jojo’s hobbies out of the water?
J: He’s also a therapy dog. We visit veterans and have welcome home reunions. We also visit children’s hospitals. He’s the only surfing dog in San Diego.
PP: When did Jojo first pick up a surfboard?
J: He started at 4 years old, which was 6 years ago. Getting attacked was bad, but we wouldn’t know his talent otherwise.
PP: What tips do you have for aspiring Instagram stars?
J: Do you what you do! Take lots of pics!
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PetPlace: We know that Meatball has cerebral palsy, did you know this before you got him?
Tony: I did not. I found out on the way to get him, and I was very surprised. But I always say that stupidity can take you over some bridges, because if you knew what was in front of you, you might be too paralyzed to take a step. Speaking of paralyzed, that was his issue–the caboose didn’t work too well–but his symptoms were milder than most. Once I got back home with him, I started working with people who told me about aggressive acupuncture, CBD oils, and holistic healing to help with pain management and control the seizures that he was having. A puppy during its first couple of weeks of life has exaggerated growth, so we figured that if we could help the back catch up by compensation, like physical therapy and play therapy, it could get him where he is today.
PP: So, did you have access to resources that helped you navigate this with him?
T: I went to my vet the next day when I got back from picking him up and she was very negative about his condition. But through social media, I found doctors in South Africa who specialize in his condition and would watch videos of him and advise me about getting the proper acupuncture and treatment within the first couple of weeks. And now he limps sometimes or gets a little sore back there, but he’s 5 now and doing great!
PP: Wow, you’re a miracle Meatball!
T: And even though he’s doing well physically, I do still notice that every now and then something misfires up here (points to Meatball’s head). Earlier this morning he was kind of acting irrationally, and I don’t even think it’s just this anxiety, I think some of it is pre-existing.
PP: What has having a special needs pet taught you?
T: I never chose this, I just wanted something to love. And when you think of it that way, I have so much of that now. And it really goes back to the fact that sometimes it’s better that you don’t know what’s in front of you. Even now I kind of forget what he’s been through.