12 Special Needs Animals That Survived and Thrived
Like humans, animals are sometimes born with disabilities and special needs. But with a little ingenuity and invention, these critters can go on to live long, healthy, relatively normal lives.
With that in mind, check out our list of twelve disabled animals — from dogs and cats to pigs and ducks — that received a little helping hand from protheses, wheelchairs, and more and have gone on to thrive.
When Allison the sea turtle arrived at Sea Turtle Inc. in South Padre, Texas, experts thought she had little chance of survival. The bloodied, battered turtle had lost three of her flippers in a shark attack, and with only one remaining, was reduced to swimming in circles. Workers at Sea Turtle Inc. nursed her back to health and then began devising ways to help her swim. They started with a prosthetic flipper, but Allison didn’t have enough of a stump left to attach it. Undeterred, they continued working until they came up with her neoprene “ninja suit,” which allows Allison to swim and dive normally. Allison has adapted so well to her suit that she now swims away from the team when they try to remove it.
Photo credit: Sea Turtle Inc.
Poor Willow the kitty was born with backwards hind legs. While the other kittens in her litter quickly found homes, no one wanted to adopt Willow and deal with her disability. No one, that is, except Wendy Matthews, who learned about Willow via Craigslist. Matthews drove 40 miles through a snowstorm to adopt the kitty, but it wasn’t long before a new problem presented itself. Willow was mobile, moving by dragging her useless hind legs, but her legs were being injured in the process. Cats have delicate skin and don’t form calluses, so Matthews came up with a unique solution: she crocheted a pair of leggings to protect Willow’s skin. Not only did it improve Willow’s mobility, but it spawned a new venture. Matthews founded Leggings for Life, which has now aided more than 150 animals around the world.
Photo credit: Willow / Facebook
Buttercup is a domestic white duck, and was born in a high school biology lab. Sadly, Buttercup was born with a deformity — his left leg was backwards. He was given into the care of Mike Garey of Feathered Angels, who was determined to save the duck (Buttercup would have been unable to survive with his disability). Buttercup’s bad leg would bleed when he tried to walk on it, so the first step was to have the limb amputated. Then, using a 3-D printer, Garey created a mold and fashioned a new limb for the duck. Buttercup took to his new foot immediately, and is able to walk and swim like other ducks. His remarkable story even caught the attention of AFLAC, who donated $3,000 to Carey and Feathered Angels to help other injured animals.
Photo credit: Buttercup / Facebook
Mr. Stubbs is a seven-foot alligator whose tail was bitten off (most likely by another gator). In 2005, he was rescued, along with 31 other alligators, from the back of a truck, where the reptiles were being transported illegally. Aware that he couldn’t be returned to the wild, the Arizona Fish and Game Department turned Mr. Stubbs over to the Phoenix Herpetological Society. While there, he was taught to doggy paddle with his front legs, but eventually the society was able to fit him with a prosthetic tail, which he moves by wiggling his rear stump. His handlers are now working on training him to use the new limb.
Photo credit: azcentral.com
As a baby elephant in Cambodia, Chhouk was caught in a poacher’s snare. When rescuers from the World Wildlife Fund elephant patrol found him, he was emaciated and in severe pain. Because he’d lost part of his front leg in the trap, it was difficult for him to move and he was struggling to survive. Rescuers were able to get Chhouk (his name means “Lotus Flower”) to Wildlife Alliance, where they treated his injury and where he was adopted by a surrogate mom. However, because he was so off-balance, he was at risk for serious bone deformities. So in partnership with the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics (and with funding from the SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund), Wildlife Alliance was able to build a prosthetic foot for Chhouk. He’s now on his fifth one — they have to be replaced as he grows — and is a mobile, energetic elephant.
Photo credit: Wildlife Alliance
Chris P. Bacon
When Chris’s owner discovered that her piglet had been born with malformed hind legs, she took him to the vet to be euthanized. But rather than putting him down, the doctor decided to rescue Chris and have him fit for a special wheelchair. Dr. Len Lucero fashioned Chris’s first wheelchair out of K’Nex toy parts, and when Chris outgrew it, upgraded to a device made by Handicapped Pets. Now Chris has an active website that sells t-shirts (profits go to the Disabled American Veterans fund) and schedules pig appearances.
Photo credit: Chris P. Bacon / Facebook
Naki’o was born able-bodied, but as a puppy, he was abandoned in a house in Nebraska during winter. When rescuers found him, he was in a puddle in the basement; his mother had already died, and Naki’o was severely frostbitten. Although rescuers managed to save him, Naki’o lost all four paws to frostbite, as well as part of his nose and tail. A veterinary assistant adopted Naki’o, and once he recovered, his legs healed into rounded stumps that made prostheses a viable possibility. His owner saved enough money to purchase two artificial legs from a Denver-based vet hospital called Orthopets. Orthopets was impressed at how well Naki’o maneuvered with his two new hind legs, so the hospital covered the cost of creating front legs as well. He’s now able to run and jump, and his bionic legs have special grip pads that allow him to move on slick surfaces.
Photo credit: Naki’o the Bionic Dog / Facebook
Another animal that lost limbs to frostbite, Meadow the Angus cow was discovered in a meadow (hence her name) by Nancy Dickenson. The calf was on Dickenson’s neighbor’s property, and had lost her two back hooves and part of her ears to frostbite. A seasoned animal rescuer, Dickenson arranged to purchase Meadow and then began the rehabilitation process. In 2009, doctors at Colorado State University amputated a portion of Meadow’s hind legs and fit her with double prostheses — something they believe is a first for cows. Although Dickenson knew that Meadow’s care would probably cost thousands of dollars, she had no qualms about it. For Dickenson, Meadow is just one of the family pets.
Photo credit: elkcreekww
In 2005, rescuers found Winter, a 3-month-old dolphin, caught in a crab trap. She’d been entangled in the buoy line for more than a day, and it had cut off circulation to her tail, which eventually fell off. Concerned about her survival, rescuers took her to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida. There, specialists worked to create an artificial tail, and in 2007, Winter was fitted with her first prosthetic. Winter’s energy and enthusiasm was so inspiring that a movie was made of her story (she even got to star): “Dolphin Tale” was released in 2011, and a sequel is slated for next year.
Photo credit: Winter / Twitter (pictured with fellow dolphin Hope)
Oscar lost his hind legs in a gruesome combine harvester accident. When he was found, he had lost a significant amount of blood and his chances for survival were slim. Fortunately, his vet was able to treat the wounds and administer painkillers, but, sadly, could do nothing about Oscar’s lost mobility. That’s where veterinary surgeon Noel Fitzpatrick stepped in. In a one-of-a-kind procedure, Fitzpatrick drilled metal holes into what remained of Oscar’s legs and attached blade-like implants to the cat. Although Oscar can no longer venture outdoors, his successful operation means that he can run and play like a normal cat. And he also made the record books: He’s the first cat to ever receive prosthetic legs.
Photo credit: FitzpatrickReferrals
Beauty is a bald eagle who was shot and left to die in Alaska. The bullet decimated her beak, leaving her unable to feed. Consequently, when she was found by Jane Fink Cantwell of Birds of Prey Northwest, Beauty was emaciated and near death. Cantwell rescued Beauty, and with the help of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, brought the eagle to her rescue organization in Idaho. Though several experts claimed that euthanasia was Beauty’s only choice, Cantwell pushed for other options. She found support in a Boise-based engineering group who designed and created an artificial beak for Beauty, which worked well for a few years. However, last year Beauty experienced new, regenerative growth in her upper beak. Although this growth pushed off the prosthetic, it allowed Beauty to eat on her own for the first time since her accident. Cantwell is waiting to see whether a new prosthetic will be necessary.
Photo credit: Birds of Prey Northwest
The Disabled Goldfish
Unfortunately, we don’t know the name of this little fish, but we do know that she’s lucky to have such a compassionate caregiver. For reasons that aren’t completely clear (it may have something to do with her swim bladder), the fish has a hard time floating upright in her aquarium — she tends to flip. Rather than doom her to a life at the bottom of the tank, her ingenious, anonymous owner designed what is essentially a fish wheelchair. The buoyant harness keeps the fish upright and keeps her body aligned. And if that weren’t sweet enough, her caregiver also hand-feeds her, to make sure she gets enough to eat.
Photo credit: LiveLeak
There you have it, folks. Twelve inspiring animals that beat the odds. These critters overcame their physical disabilities and now thrive along with their able-bodied peers.