Bifford Finds Hope
Until Suzi Langer came along, 11-year-old Bifford, like other special needs animals,
had a rough life. He was rejected by his mother as a kitten and adopted and surrendered numerous times. Suzi, a vet tech, took on the long-haired domestic cat when a local shelter reached out reporting that Bifford was being bullied by the other cats. “He has poor balance, but I had no idea what was wrong with him at the time. When I brought him to a wellness clinic for regular shots, I was shocked and angered that they offered to put him down as a courtesy. He was wobbly but certainly not ready to die.”
Now on a mission to help Bifford and other cats like him, Suzi learned that he has a neurological disorder called cerebellar hypoplasia or CH. “His underdeveloped brain affects his coordination, but he’s not in any pain. He doesn’t know he’s different and runs and plays like any other cat would. CH pets can have happy and healthy life spans. They can learn to adapt to their abilities and compensate over time.” Suzi is blazing a trail for changing attitudes about disabled cats and dogs. She wants to change the idea that the solution to CH is euthanasia. “The condition is just misunderstood, and we’re trying to remove the stigma from it. The severity of CH can vary, but putting them down is not the answer.”
Suzi also has an epileptic rat terrier with a bullet in his hip, a blind cat, and a pug with spina bifida and swimmer syndrome that affects his front legs. The compassionate caregiver says she’s working to train the pug and has a wheelchair on order, but that getting one is a long process.
Suzi is Inspired to Help Others
Aside from her love of animals, Suzi also has a very personal reason for changing attitudes about disability. Eleven years ago, at 22, Suzi developed epilepsy. “It was terrifying to suddenly have this condition. I had my first seizure in a college classroom. I now know what it’s like to live with that stigma, and the misunderstanding around my own health and abilities is phenomenal. I know I can do remarkable things, and even if they’re disabled, people and animals are all still worthy of love. So, just like me, with patience and work Bifford’s going to do awesome. If you have empathy and love to give, that’s half the battle.”
Based in Youngstown, Ohio, Suzi is in the process of establishing a non-profit to get the word out about fostering, adopting, volunteering and donating. “We work with organizations and agencies to offer information and resources related to care of special needs pets – especially those with CH. Our website, presidentbifford.com, has an interactive map with special-needs-friendly clinics and facilities. People who’ve been told to put down their cats with conditions like CH are desperate for a second opinion. Our resources allow them to get that.”
Now branching out to cover more states and a wider scope of special needs including wheelchairs for amputees and paralyzed animals, Suzi says the response has been encouraging. “We’ve had ten calls from all over the country this past week. We have resources in Louisiana but want to expand. Vets and professionals can sign up with us as CH friendly or to learn more so that they can become a needed resource. Our band of ‘specially-abled’ pet parents wants to keep learning and educating others.”
Suzi says that 10 years ago she knew nothing about special needs animals but that she can’t imagine her life without them now. “Please adopt and don’t just go for the cute ones. Pay attention to those that are frightened or need more patience. You might just find the love of your life. Bifford has taught me a lot about tenacity and resiliency. He’s helped me grow as a young woman since that first terrifying seizure. I’ve also learned not to baby him too much. We’re both survivors. With the right attitude, work and love we’ll be OK and make the world a little easier place for specially-abled people and pets to thrive.”
For more information about disabled or special needs animals and their care, or to register as a special-needs-friendly
veterinarian or clinic, visit presidentbifford.com.