Broken cookies are still sweet: A shout-out to special-needs pets and their rescuers and adopters

If I gave you the best cookie in the world, would you eat it even if it were broken?

This week’s adoption feature is dedicated to all the little tarts with holes poked in the crust, shmushed truffles, Oreos with the top cookie layer askew—all the little cats and dogs who have deformities, birth defects, and injuries that have crippled them and make wonderful companions anyway.

It takes a special person to take care of special needs (of course, if that describes you, there are a few little goodies at the end of the article, waiting to be adopted, and this is dedicated to you, too). And I sure want to send some love out to the rescuers who have taken these little creatures under their wide, loving wings.

Rescues who shelter pets with special needs see the cats and dogs as complete in themselves.

“I do not like the term handicapped pets because to me, animals do not have boundaries,” said Aurelie Vanderhoek, founder of Zoey’s Place Rescue. “They learn to adapt with what they have, always forging ahead no matter what. They are our greatest teachers, and I am grateful to have had the chance to help so many already.”

Long Beach’s little icon

The most famous of these animals in Long Beach and likely anywhere was Wheely Willy, who had been found abandoned with his vocal cords deliberately sliced and injuries that left his hind legs paralyzed. He was about 3 years old. Humane educator Deborah Turner discovered him at her vet and fell in love. She fixed Willy up with a K9 Cart, a special wheelchair for dogs, and he became mobile and an inspiration to schoolchildren, humans with disabilities, people in retirement homes and a lot of the rest of us. He lived to the estimated but impressive age of 20. A ceremony was held in his honor at Long Beach Animal Care Services (ACS), which was covered by the media and attended by friends and fans, including Mayor Bob Foster and his wife, Nancy.

Wheely Willy and his mom, Deborah Turner, at the Friends of Long Beach Animals (FOLBA) WALK for the Animals. Willy led the WALK. Photo by Kate Karp.

Turner said that she’s still overcome by the memories of and admiration for both her and Willy that people share. However, the few haters and folks who didn’t get it or were plain nasty were like the spring in the featherbed that pokes you in the ribs. (OK, featherbeds don’t have springs, but you get the point. Har de har.) She recalled comments that people made about putting Willy out of the misery that he patently didn’t have to her, which was distressing. I read a couple of really vile, cruelty-inspired comments posted on a video of Willy, and I can’t bring myself to repeat them here.

The guarding of Eden

“Some people believed that Eden should have been euthanized at the shelter, as they felt she was suffering,” said Jaden Louie, a rescuer with The Little Lion Foundation. Louie said that her “soft spot” for rescuing cats like Eden is likely related to her being a special-needs person herself.

“I was diagnosed with a rare connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome at 19, resulting in horrible musculoskeletal pain and tissue so poor that my joints can pop right out of their sockets,” she said. “I understand how it feels to be seen as a financial burden, or too much work.’”

Eden and her sister Olivia were diagnosed with twisted leg syndrome, a birth defect that carries deformed legs and contracted tendons, typically caused by poor positioning of the fetus and crowding in the uterus.

“When caught while very young and their limbs are still soft and malleable, twisted legs can sometimes be corrected,” Louie said. “However, Eden and Olivia were past the point of correction; their bones had already hardened.”

I met Eden and Olivia at the Kitten Lady appearance a couple of weeks ago, and I immediately fell for Eden (she’s available—see below). I have four in the house already, but if I didn’t, I’d consider her. A couple of people weren’t thus enamored.

“Do you see the cat with the deformed legs?” one woman gasped to another, “That poor thing needs to be put out of its misery!”

Eden looks miserable, all right. More zip than a Tesla, she. Video courtesy of Jaden Louie. 

Stylin’ the stars

Sherri Stankewitz of Sparky and the Gang Animal Rescue has pulled more disabled and filthy dogs off streets between LA County and Tijuana, Mexico, than there are bagels in Brooklyn. She and her team perform dazzling mutt makeovers and adopting them out, whether they have the expected number of legs and eyes or do not.

“My sister was handicapped, and people would make fun of her,” Stankewitz said. “So, maybe that’s why I need to be the voice for the injured, disabled animals.”

Once, she said, a woman came to look over a dog with three legs, and she asked whether she had to pay the full adoption price because the animal wasn’t “a complete dog.”

“I told her that she had the choice of either paying the full adoption price or giving us the $1,500 we spent on the amputation,” Stankewitz said. Needless to say, the dog eventually went home with someone else.

How the cookie doesn’t crumble

Trying to get hold of Jennifer Ballinger, the founder of the recently launched and evocatively named House of Broken Cookies, was a challenge. That’s because every time I contacted her, she was busy running to or from an emergency or a rescue. When I finally did pin her down, we talked for an hour while she multitasked with hungry kittens and one who’d been found in a landfill and was brought to her.

“I came up with the name for my rescue when a friend of mine said to someone, ‘Jennifer has a bunch of broken cookies at her house,’” she said.

Ballinger was full of apologies when I called her, and I told her to put a sock in it. Any animal advocate who isn’t busy, particularly one who specifically takes in pets with birth defects and nearly incurable illnesses, I am suspect of.

Ballinger has spent her entire life caring for adults and children with special needs. After seven years as a cat rescuer, it was natural for her to move to special-needs kitties.

“I got thoroughly sucked in,” she said.

Ballinger pulls most of her charges from shelters, which don’t normally have the resources to deal with pets with special needs. She’s lost a few—not surprising, considering how fragile some of them are, but she’s worked hard to bring out successes. Lt. Dan, for instance, had backward-facing legs, but he pulled through fine.

“His legs turned around on their own,” Ballinger said. “I don’t think the general public realizes how remarkable cats are—it’s such a natural thing for them to heal and survive.”

Special-needs cats, Ballinger said, are usually the unwanted ones unless someone’s found who can see past the disability into the animal’s sweetness.

“Three-legged and one-eyed cats often get adopted, but others who have neurological impairments scare people—they’re also afraid that one day, they’ll be gone sooner than expected,” she said. “They’re not unadoptable—it’s just a case of finding the right person.”

A jarful of adoptable cookies


Monkey (left) and Asia (right).

Monkey is 2 years old. He’s a hugger and loves to cuddle and play with feather-wand toys. He’s super-friendly with anyone who walks in the door. He loves his window perch from where he chatters at the birds and squirrels or takes a well-deserved nap. Monkey has a chest condition called Pectus Excbatum, which can affect humans as well. He’s had surgery for this condition and did quite well—the chest has held in place, and he will not need future surgery. He’d do best in a home without a lot of stairs and with someone who’s often at home. He craves human companionship.

Asia is a 6-month-old sweetheart. She likes to be held and will purr like crazy. She’s playful and funny to watch. She entertains herself very well but also plays with the kittens. Broken Cookies has no idea what caused the head tilt she has—likely trauma—Asia doesn’t care for loud noises or quick movements. She does have an aversion to loud noises and will be best in a home with no young children or dogs. She’ll have to earn your trust, but it will be worth the wait.

To adopt either Monkey or Asia, contact House of Broken Cookies at [email protected].


Eden (left) and Olivia (right). 

Eden and Olivia are the sisters for whom mother-and-daughter rescuers Jaden and Kristi Louie schlepped all the way from Ramona after reading a post asking for immediate rescue for kittens with deformed legs. Eden needed immediate surgery because one of her legs had a bone sticking out; it was amputated. The other is folded back, and she’s doing fine. Snarky posts that read “Do you know many healthy cats you could’ve saved for this one deformed one?” didn’t dampen Jaden’s mood. “I looked at Eden, lying in her brand-new pet bed after surgery that night. She was purring and kneading on the side of the bed. She was happy, she was thankful, she was full of life—and I couldn’t imagine putting a monetary value on that.” Yesh. If you can help Eden through her challenges, including litter-box use, contact The Little Lion Foundation at [email protected].

Young Sunny was run over by a car, and his hind legs were shattered. Rescuer Sherry Stankewitz said that his bones were like a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. He had major surgery on his back legs, and now he runs with the help of paddle boards and lives a happy life. One of his legs is super-stiff, but that doesn’t bother him! “Just like people with injuries, they survive,” Stankewitz said. “Actually, animals are stronger than humans in dealing with that!”

To adopt Sunny, contact [email protected].

Little Harrison was rescued by a good Samaritan who discovered him trapped under a lead pipe, with his poor front paw crushed. He was 3 weeks old at the time, and Zoey’s Place Rescue couldn’t consider surgery with a cat that young. As they expected , his paw became necrotic and actually fell off, leaving him with a natural amputation.

The depth of his injuries, however, will most likely result in a full front-limb amputation when he is old enough to prevent further injuries and infection. Harrison has been the picture of resilience despite his odds. Shy and reserved at first, he has blossomed into a rambunctious kitten, not even noticing he is a little different than the others. Even if he has to become a three-legged kitty, his fierce determination will lead him on to continue enjoying life just as the others do.

To adopt Harrison, contact Zoey’s Pet Rescue at [email protected].

Hercules (ID#A612653) is a beautiful 4-year-old, 17-pound orange tabby who is cooling his injured heels at our shelter at ACS. Hercules is easygoing and mild mannered. Looking at him, you’ll see a perfect, chubby kitty, but unfortunately, he has a permanently injured foreleg. At some point in this handsome guy’s life, he had corrective surgery that involved pins and other accoutrements. Now, some years later, he has a limp due to arthritis.

To adopt Hercules, visit P.D Pitchford Companion Animal Village, 7700 E. Spring St., Long Beach, at entrance to El Dorado Park. No parking fee for shelter guests.

Things to Do, Pets to Support

Seal Beach Animal Care Center presents 22nd annual “Wag ‘n Walk.”

Saturday, Sept. 29, 9 a.m.–2 p.m., Eisenhower Park, Main Street and Ocean Avenue, Seal Beach.

Free to spectate; $30 to register (information here)

Bring your two- and four-legged friends (three, if you have a tripod!) to stroll through Seal Beach to kick off this annual fund-raiser! Enjoy our animal expo, with fun for the entire family! Grand Marshall Justin Rudd and his bulldog POTUS will again be leaders of the pack in support of the animals in residence at the Seal Beach Animal Care Center! We will showcase our adoptable dogs and cats and offer silent-auction and raffle items. The day will include contests, entertainment, food and shopping!

Pet First Aid and CPR Class

Saturday, Sept. 29, 1 –2:30 p.m., Bloomfield Animal Hospital, 20927 Norwalk Blvd., Lakewood

Free event; register online here.

Join up to learn how to administer CPR and first aid to your pet. This event could save your pet’s life.

‘Show Us Your Kitties!’ Calendar Contest, benefitting Helen Sanders Cat Paws

To Sept. 30, guidelines here.

$10.00 to reserve a date for your cat on the calendar; $1.00 per vote for an entire page, $5.00 minimum starting vote

Want to help Helen Sanders CatPAWS raise money to save cats from public shelters? Submit a photo of your kitty and/or vote for your favorite kitties! Also, because CatPAWS believes in working with other groups toward our common goal of saving more lives, you may designate an organization other than Helen Sanders CatPAWS as a recipient when you enter. If you are one of the top three winners, a portion of the money raised after expenses will go to that group! For $10, you can also reserve a date for your own cat’s birthday. All funds benefit pets.

Glory Days Beachside Grill Fund-Raiser for Rescues

Friday, Oct. 5, all day, Glory Days Sports Grill, 620 PCH, Seal Beach.

Menu prices vary.

Three hearty meals are good for you, and they’ll be even better for pet rescues on Oct. 5! And your tummy, of course. K9 Kismet Dog Rescue, Long Beach Animal Care Services and Seal Beach Animal Care Services will be among the shelters and rescues that will receive 20 percent of the proceeds from breakfast, lunch and dinner! That’s right, all day! Just think—your one day to eat every meal out and feel good about it! Bring friends and family, and show your server the above Glory Days flyer (print or phone). See you there!

Fix Long Beach Free Spay/Neuter Clinic—sponsored by Justin Rudd and his nonprofit Community Action Team

Saturday, Oct. 13, 7:30 a.m.–3 p.m., Long Beach Marine Stadium, 5225 E. Paoli Way, Long Beach.

Bring donations for the AIDS food bank: non-perishables such as peanut butter, pasta, cereal, tuna, etc. Socks also needed.

Have your pet spayed or neutered free with appointment and qualifications; vet appointment with voucher, minimal charge for dogs and cats; flea meds $10; shots and dewormer $10 each; nail trimming, $10.

It’s the law to fix your pets in Long Beach and many Southern California cities. To provide this costly service to our Long Beach residents who otherwise couldn’t afford it, Fix Long Beach offers this service free of charge.

Make an appointment through IM or email at [email protected] for your pet, and include (1) your name, (2) address, (3) phone number, (4) pet’s name, (5) age, (6) sex, (7) breed, and (8) weight, and Fix will see if they can schedule you. You can also come as a standby, but be there at 8:30 a.m. Make sure that your pet has had nothing to eat or drink past 10:00 p.m. the previous night.

Vouchers are provided through Long Beach Animal Care Services (ACS) Spay/Neuter Assistance Voucher Program and may be used at specified veterinary clinics. They are available for pets who don’t have appointments or dogs too large to fit on the truck.

To donate, visit the group’s page. In-kind donations such as leashes, collars and toys can be brought to our event or ordered through the Amazon wish list. 

For both spay/neuter and vaccinations, all dogs must be on sturdy leashes and all cats must be in dedicated carriers. Fix thanks you in advance for being responsible for your pet’s health and for helping to reduce shelter overpopulation and euthanasia.

Fourth annual Home at Last adoption event.

Saturday, Oct. 13, 11 a.m.–3 p.m., Centinela Feed and Pet Supplies, 4700 E. PCH, Long Beach.

Adoption fees vary.

Coldwell Banker Coastal Alliance is again teaming up with Centinela Feed and Pet Supplies for their  pet adoption event, as part of the Coldwell Banker Home for Dogs Project. CBCA’s mission is to help raise awareness about adopting a rescue/shelter animal—there are thousands of them who need homes, and adoption gives them a second chance at life. We will also raise money for the participating animal rescue groups by selling raffle tickets and sponsoring other fun activities. And of course, as you can see, you’ll be able to take home a cat, too!

Stray Cat Alliance presents Stray Cat Club Gala

Saturday, Oct. 13, 6:00 p.m., Montage Beverly Hills, 225 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills.

Tickets $300 and up, available here.

Stray Cat Alliance (SCA) is a nonprofit organization that exists to educate and empower people to advocate for the health and safety of every cat, everywhere. In Long Beach and in other communities, volunteers have assisted residents in the process of trapping, spaying/neutering and returning (TNR) the cats who live, homeless, in neighborhoods and continue to bring thousands of unwanted kittens into the world (yes, they help get the kittens into foster and permanent homes as well!). Their yearly gala is always a top-hat-top-cat affair: this year, the event will feature a VIP reception, a cocktail reception, silent and live auctions, a magician and a psychic who’ll read your paws, a dinner featuring vegan cuisine, and a program featuring actor/comedian Hal Sparks as host. L.A. City Council president Herb J. Wesson and the Michael Lewis Marketing Suite will be honored for their humane actions and contributions. Proceeds will help fund SCA’s programs. Veddy, veddy dec-cat-dent!

17th annual Interfaith Blessing of the Pets, presented by Justin Rudd and the nonprofit Community Action Team and Haute Dogs

Sunday, Oct. 14, sunset at 5:45 p.m., Granada Boat Landing, 1 Granada Ave., Long Beach. Free.

Frankly, we need blessings more than our pets do, but through them, so are we blessed. Come to this beautiful event and bring any pet who doesn’t mind a crowd of people and animals. If you have a pet who prefers to stay at home or who has passed on, bring a photo or something belonging to him or her. Ministers from a number of faiths will be there to administer blessings to cats, dogs, lizards, birdies, snakies, horsies, and farm animals—a veritable barn dance that includes a mini-cow, a pony, an alpaca, goats, sheep, bunnies and ducks. This is, seriously, a beautiful event.

Boats ’n’ Barks Fund-Raiser Cocktail Pawty

Sunday, Oct. 14, 4–9 p.m., Boathouse on the Bay, 190 N. Marina Drive, Long Beach. Drink prices vary.

Join Live Love Animal Rescue for a delightful evening of drinks, complimentary finger food and all these great dogs who’ll be trying to swipe the goodies from your plate. Yes, your dog’s welcome. Proceeds will go to Live Love. Sponsored by the Karen T. Hilburn Foundation.

Pup-Crawl for Dog-toberfest, to Benefit Fix Long Beach, sponsored in part by Long Beach Post

Saturday, Oct. 20, 5–9 p.m., Red Leprechaun, 4000 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Tickets: $50; includes drink tickets and appetizer.

Hop on The Big Red Bus for all the fun you can handle! Fix Long Beach’s fund-raiser will begin at Red Leprechaun and stop at Malainey’s Grill, Shenanigans and Gallagher’s. Your ticket includes a drink ticket for beer, wine or champagne, and appetizers at one location. Drink sales will continue on the bus for an additional cost. You’ll meet at the Red Leprechaun at 5 p.m., The Big Red Bus will pick up at 6 p.m., and you’ll return to The Red Lep at 9 p.m. The Red Leprechaun will be staying open late for dinner. We are looking for sponsors, so if you know a business or individual that would like to fly their banner on the bus, please email [email protected]. All proceeds will go toward Fix’s goal of spay/neuter and rescue in the LBC. And thank you, Long Beach Post, for sponsoring this wild ride!

Strut Your Mutt

Best Friends ‘Strut Your Mutt’

Saturday, Oct. 20, 11 a.m., Exposition Park, 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles. Visit the registration page to join a team, form a team, or register as an individual.

It’s that time again—time to strut to “Save Them All”! Please join Best Friends Animal Society and our partner rescue groups, shelters and animal welfare organizations as we walk to save lives at Strut Your Mutt in L.A. You can join a team or register individually to fund-raise for homeless dogs and cats in your community as you walk alongside animal lovers like yourself. The event starts with a celebratory walk (dog not required) and includes a family-friendly festival with food trucks, vendors and lots of fun activities. Last year, over 1,000 people raised more than $400,000 for lifesaving programs such as spay-and-neuter services and adoption events. With your help, we know we can set the bar even higher this year. Join us!

National Pit Bull Appreciation Day

Saturday, Oct. 27, 10 a.m.–3:00 p.m., Marina Vista Park, East Colorado Street, Long Beach. Free event; adoption and vendor price rates apply.

We (affectionately) call ‘em blockheads! Come help these funny, misunderstood doggies and their friends with our first annual National Pit Bull Appreciation Day! Live Love Animal Rescue is partnering up with Blockhead Brigade for this community event that features incredible local vendors, a pack walk, delectable food, pet portraits, a pit bull muralist, humane education, fostering info, training demos, yoga with your dog, a raffle, a photo contest and, best of all, adoptions! Help us build community around the dogs we love. All breeds, mixes and mutts are welcome—just bring love and your dog to enjoy a day at the beautiful Long Beach Marina with us! All breeds, creeds and loving humans are welcome.

Haute Dog’s 18th Annual Howl’oween Parade

Sunday, Oct. 28, near Colorado Lagoon, 5355 Eliot St., Long Beach. Free to spectate; entry registration and seat reservation information available here; full schedule of information available here.

Will you go as a Hound of Baskerville? Or Cujo? Or a poodly princess in a pink petticoat? Justin Rudd and his Community Action Team will again host the biggest Halloween pet event in the world—and the most enjoyable one! Enjoy a vendor and pet-adoption fair from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m., and don’t miss (as if you could!) the highlight of the day: over 500 costumed dogs (and maybe the pig will show up again) parading a few blocks in front of a few thousand gawkers and a panel of judges! The winner will receive dog food for a year from Petcurean. There’s a $10 advance for each dog who enters the parade, but there’s no charge for humans to walk in the parade with or without costumes and with or without pets. Free to spectate. Front-row chairs can be rented on-site for $5 cash or $10 reserved/advance. Third-district Councilwoman Suzie Price will co-host the event!

Please send any Long Beach or Seal Beach pet-related events or projects to [email protected]. Posting subject to approval.

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Kate Karp is the Pets Columnist for the Long Beach Post covering the world of animal activism, pet adoptions and lots of cute cats. She’s called Long Beach home since 1994 and has written for the Post for about 10 years. Kate’s day job is as a copyeditor, which she discovered a love for during her 30-year tenure as a teacher. She describes the job as “like taking the rough edges off a beautiful sculpture.”