For many local pets, TLC Humane Society is little more than a rest stop on the way to finding a “forever home.”
But for animals like Thomas, a friendly feline diagnosed with epilepsy, their special traits can lead to extended stays at the shelter, leaving some to wonder if TLC is meant to be their actual forever home.
TLC president Desirae Carroll explains that’s never the intended goal.
“As great as our caregivers are, it’s not a permanent family,” Carroll said. “We do the best we can but it’s always better to be in a home where they can get the love and care that they need.”
The first stay for Thomas was short. The cat arrived at TLC in October of 2019 and was adopted in January of 2020. However, Thomas was returned to the shelter just five months later after developing his condition, as his former owners were not ready for a pet requiring that level of care.
Once he was returned, Thomas suffered one last seizure, which definitely startled lead caregiver Christine Sheppard. After Sheppard rushed Thomas to the vet, he was prescribed a daily medication which has since halted the attacks.
“He has been on his phenobarb regimen daily and he has not had a seizure sense,” Sheppard said. “So as long as he’s on his phenobarb, so far he’s done great.”
Sheppard describes Thomas as calm and chill, due in large part to his condition and the medication.
“He gets along with dogs, he gets along with cats, he gets along with anything,” Sheppard said. “Just looking for that special home that is willing to keep him on his medication and as long as that happens, he can live a long, healthy life.”
And while it sounds like a huge undertaking, Sheppard says the medicine typically ranges from $7-10 a month.
Sheppard says she noticed something special about Thomas from the beginning.
“Thomas’s experience here, I believe because of his epilepsy, and it does affect the brain, he takes things in stride,” she said. “It never phased him. He got into that room, walked around like ‘Hey, what’s up?’ and just checking out every cat like no big deal. I think because of that in his brain, he just doesn’t comprehend things like a normal cat does, so his adjustment was easy.”
This calm presence earned Thomas a job at the shelter, as Sheppard uses Thomas to test dogs to see how they react to cats.
While the staff has grown to have a special love for Thomas, they look forward with hope to a day where the cat will leave his job and home at TLC for a new home, where he can get the care and attention he deserves. Getting Thomas to a new home would be beneficial for both the cat and the shelter which is then able to take on another animal.
“If somebody adopts Thomas, that opens a space for us to save another cat,” Sheppard said. “We cannot save anymore cats until the current cats are adopted, because we do not want to overpopulate their space...So that is our goal. We want him adopted so we can go save another cat.”
The staff believes it would also help Thomas to have the one-on-one attention of being a part of a family.
However when the day comes, Sheppard says it won’t be easy.
“These are kind of like my extended children because my husband has put a cap on no more adopting at home...so these are like my extended children,” she said. “And when it comes time to get Thomas adopted, I’m going to cry like a baby, because I’m going to miss him, but on the other hand it’ll make my heart feel good that we finally found him a home.”
While Thomas patiently awaits his new home, Sheppard explains that he’s a part of the toughest demographic to find homes for, it seems.
“It’s harder for adult cats to be adopted than dogs,” she said. “Adult dogs, puppies, they go all the time. Kittens, [we] can’t keep them in long enough. Adult cats, a different story.”
However Thomas isn’t the only long term resident of TLC with special needs. The shelter has also been home to two dog siblings, Annie and Buckle, since last April.
While dogs tend to have a shorter stay at the shelter before being adopted, Annie and Buckle are at a bit of a disadvantage as a bonded pair, meaning that the shelter would encourage, if at all possible, for the two to be adopted together.
“Bonded pair means one will have a hard time surviving without the other,” Sheppard said. “...It’s very hard to adopt a bonded pair because usually when people come in and adopt, they’re looking to adopt one cat, one dog or one puppy. They’re not looking to take in two, three dogs at a time so it is really hard.”
Within days of bringing the two in, Sheppard and the staff found out quickly that they had a bonded pair on their hands.
“When Annie and Buckle initially arrived, we set them up in two separate runs...because we wanted to get through the minimum of adjustment period,” Sheppard said. “And Annie stopped eating. She refused to eat.”
In a desperate attempt to encourage her to eat, the staff decided to bring in Buckle.
“Buckle came into her run, her ears perked up. You could see her body go ‘Oh, O.K.’ and went right for the food and started eating immediately. She missed her sister. She needed her sister. So that’s why to us, that’s a bonded pair. Annie gets very anxious if Buckle leaves that run without her.”
Annie’s condition also doesn’t help the pair’s odds of being adopted.
“Annie’s blind, almost all-the-way blind. Buckle’s her seeing-eye dog companion,” Sheppard said. “They came in very overweight, definitely Buckle did. We got them to lose weight. They are on hip and joint supplements for their aging joints.”
At around seven-years old, the aging pair do have one trick up their sleeve when it comes to being marketable: a sponsor.
“A member of the community saw them available...and called in one day and said ‘Hey, I want to pay the adoption fees for Annie and Buckle so if a family comes in and they want them to go to their home, their adoption fee is paid.’ So she sent the money over and paid their adoption fee. So their adoption is fully sponsored, they’re fully vetted, spayed, neutered, everything’s up to date,” Sheppard said.
Carroll says that is an occasional treat that tends to happen with animals that are harder to adopt.
“It does [happen] with some of the ones that are special needs or we’ve had for a long time or are bonded pairs because we have donors that know that if we can have them sponsored and help pay the fees, it helps with someone now having to come up with two adoption fees,” she said. “If you’re having to come up with $300 for Buckle and Ann, it’s still a big chunk of money.”
But while the sponsored fees make it easier financially, the logistics of getting twice as many pets as intended still makes it tough.
Carroll says there’s a special significance to adopting an animal from a shelter as opposed to buying a pet from a store.
“Adopting from a shelter or a rescue, you’re really saving more than one animal,” she said. “When you adopt from us, it opens up a space for us to go and save another one, whether that be an owner surrender or pulling from a county shelter.”
Although when it comes to adopting, Carroll says taking on a special needs pet isn’t for everyone.
“Not everyone is cut out for it, but those who are willing to open their heart and their home to it will see the benefit in the long run,” she said. “Any animal is going to give you love and I think if you’re willing to take a chance on it and you’re financially comfortable and you’re willing to take on a special needs animal, it’ll pay off in the end. You’re giving this animal a home and something they’ve never had before.”
And while it often takes the perfect situation to see these long term residents of the shelter finally find their forever homes, there are some success stories.
Just last week, the shelter’s two longest tenured cats, Gracie, who had been at the shelter for over four years and Francie, who had been there for just over two years, were both adopted, finding new homes and most importantly, a family.
The shelter, located off Red Oak Flats Road, is open again for any who want to look into adopting a pet. TLC also offers online adoption applications, at tlchs.org, for those looking to start the process at home. And although adopting is the best way to support TLC, there are plenty of other opportunities to support the shelter’s cause outside of adoption.
“Even if people aren’t able to adopt, supporting us in any way whether it’s volunteering or donating or becoming a member, there’s always those ways,” Carroll said. “People are sometimes like ‘Oh I can’t adopt that, I wish I could do something.’ Well it’s free to go like us on Facebook and to share our posts and tell people about us. Not everyone can adopt and not everyone can give money, but just getting the word out there, suggesting us and recommending us, that kind of thing is always super helpful.”