Embracing Special Needs Dogs: Our Adoption Journey

Guest article by Carrie Langdon

As a lifelong animal lover and owner of dogs, cats, and horses, I wasn’t surprised when my 18-year-old daughter Leah expressed a wish to have a dog of her own.  At home, we already had an 11-year-old, 80 lb English retriever/standard poodle cross and a 9-year-old, 30 lb mini Goldendoodle, as well as 2 cats.

Leah thought carefully about what sort of dog she wanted and decided she would like to adopt a dog with special needs. She eventually found Sangchoo listed with Free Korean Dogs. Sangchoo was rescued from a dog meat farm and has a congenital deformity of one of her front legs. Leah was immediately taken with her and we submitted an application right away. We heard back from EK very quickly and after a good conversation, it sounded like our home would be a great fit for Sangchoo.  Our experience with animals, as well as already having two friendly dogs to support Sangchoo were positive factors. A couple of days later we met Natalie for our home visit and the process was really moving along!

Meanwhile, as I perused through the FKD site myself, I came across Hongyi, a Miniature Pinscher who had considerable permanent hair loss. Something about her really captured my heart. Even though she would put the number of dogs in the house up to 4 (!), I just couldn’t get her out of my thoughts. I spoke to EK and Natalie about her, and that was that!

Just a few days later we were thrilled to welcome the dogs home. We were mindful of the need to introduce the new dogs to our older dogs carefully.  As it was a beautiful day in August, we started the process in the backyard.  Hongyi, who we now call Honey, came bouncing out of her crate smelling like pee but absolutely ready to call our home her own. She has an incredibly resilient personality. I got her cleaned up, fed, and watered and that was it. She was my girl.

As we expected, Sangchoo, who we now call Sachi, was much more timid. She had a traumatic early life, and despite a great foster family, she still bears some psychological burdens. She did not want to leave her crate, so Leah sat by the open crate door and waited quietly.  We brought our big dog, Themba, to meet the new girls first.  He is a lovely gentleman and was happy to meet Honey, and respected Sachi’s need for some space. We next brought out our smaller dog, Kalayla, who also was happy to meet Honey and let Sachi just rest beside Leah in her crate. We spent the afternoon outside, with all the dogs enjoying the shade.

Sachi with her cat sister in Toronto

Gradually, Leah handled Sachi more and more in her crate, and eventually eased her out and onto the grass. Sachi was fearful, but Leah was calm, gentle, and firmly encouraging. The other dogs were respectful of her, which we reinforced, and their presence was a definite support to her confidence. After just a couple of days, more quickly than we expected, Sachi was a content member of the family.  She required frequent quiet intervals to regroup, but all two-legged and four-legged family members were accepting of that. We started going for short walks in the neighborhood the next day. We were very proud of our new girls!

Over the subsequent two months, Sachi and Honey have integrated well. We have been watchful and corrective of any guarding or overly reactive behaviours. They have learned to sit quietly and wait for their meals. They are learning how to play with toys. Sachi has also developed a real fondness for cats! Both are now much stronger physically, so we can go for nice long walks. We have a support harness that we slip on Sachi if she gets tired before we get home. This allows Leah to bear some of Sachi’s weight, taking the strain off her single front leg. Sachi is becoming much less fearful of dogs or strangers while out walking. Honey does not like the colder weather, so lately in addition to the sweater or hoodie, she always wears to cover her bare skin she also wears a cozy coat. Choosing little dog sweaters is surprisingly fun!


In the house, Honey is completely comfortable and is happy to meet new people.  Like most small dogs she often has a bit of a bark at first but settles down when she sees us greet our friends or family.  Honey was not properly house-trained when she arrived, but with persistence and a lot of patience, she is doing much better.  Sachi remains timid of people in the house other than my husband, children, and myself.  She sometimes briefly barks, and generally retreats to her bed in Leah’s room. However, she eventually comes out again, and while she may not socialize with visitors she is slowly learning to just be accepting. She is easily startled by noises in the house. We realize that all these behaviours reflect her early trauma. We respond with quiet patience and encouragement, with our objective being to build her resilience. She loves our two older dogs and plays joyfully with Kalayla in particular. She is an affectionate, lovely girl who is gradually discovering that the world is not so scary anymore.

I have found the process of adopting our two rescued girls to be deeply rewarding.  It comes with challenges, some unique to the rescue situation and some more usual ones that come with adding a dog to the family. Patience, compassion, careful consideration, and good humour are all valuable assets when making a rescued dog–or any dog–part of the family, but the results have been absolutely worthwhile.

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