I have several clients living with deaf dogs who can attest to the fact that while deafness does create a few challenges, it isn't a deal-breaker. I also have clients whose dogs are blind; a couple have young dogs who were blind from birth, while others have senior dogs who've lost their vision. And because I have collies, I certainly know dog owners dealing with CEA, Collie Eye Anomaly, which can result in blindness in an affected dog at any age. One of my long time clients even has a three-legged dog, aptly named "Tripod!" And, yes, he gets around her 5 acre property just fine. So, why wouldn't someone want to adopt a special needs pet?
First and foremost, you need to make sure that your living situation will work for that special needs pet tugging at your heartstrings. Is your home/yard/property fenced? Are your gates secure and not easily climbed over? Those are the first questions you'll need to answer if you intend to bring home a deaf dog. They (obviously) won't hear you calling them, nor will they hear traffic coming their way. It's your responsibility to be your dog's ears. Deaf dogs often startle easily too, so making your deaf dog aware of your presence before you touch them is key. Deaf dogs can easily be taught hand signals for all of the basic behaviors you'd like them to know, but you will definitely want to teach them other, fun behaviors as well and assign hand signals to those. You can use a long line to allow a deaf dog to safely explore; simply apply pressure to the line to get them to turn toward you so that you can then give the hand signal for "come!" You can also use a vibrating collar for your deaf dog. These collars simply buzz/vibrate (no shock or pain) thus getting the dog's attention. If you are considering a pet with visual impairments, you need to make sure that they can safely navigate your home. Do you have lots of stairs? Are those stairs indoors, outdoors, or both? Do you have other pets for whom a blind animal could be at risk? Having stairs won't keep you from having a blind animal successfully live in your home, particularly if that animal had sight, or some vision, before going blind. Just remember not to move significant pieces of furniture around as that will affect your blind pet's internal map and spatial awareness.
Not to be crass, but you also need to look at your finances when considering a special needs pet. Does their disability mean they will need extra trips to the vet or a veterinary specialist? Do they need daily eye drops, ear medication, or heart medication? Is your special needs pet easy to give medication to? If so, maybe you can simply hire a sitter or dog walker to come by when you are at work and give those meds during the day. My client with the three-legged dog has him on a strict exercise schedule, designed to keep his muscles in good condition and his weight a constant. She is trying really hard to make sure that his body is well-balanced so that he doesn't end up tearing a ligament or injuring his other hip or one of his shoulders. And if you're considering adopting a pet who is epileptic, has Cushing's Disease, is diabetic, or suffers from chronic skin infections, you are signing up for the care of an animal who will need daily medication(s) and routine veterinary monitoring to insure their continued good health. Unfortunately, all of that can be prohibitively expensive for the average pet owner.
While many private rescues and animal fostering groups know the details on pets with special needs, it is often the case that those with special needs "fly under the radar" at the animal shelter. So while a well-funded rescue group might be able to afford to fully diagnose an eye issue for a pet in their care, the average shelter may be able to offer nothing to that pet beyond basic veterinary care and a tentative diagnosis based on visual inspection of the pet only. Taking a newly adopted pet to see your own veterinarian within the first few days you've brought them home is key (particularly if you have other animals in your home), and that is definitely true for any pet you suspect or know will have additional care needs due to a disability or chronic illness.
It is also the case that I've worked with clients whose newly adopted pets are physically healthy, but who have significant behavior problems. Separation anxiety, noise sensitivity, resource guarding, fear, not using the litterbox, and all forms of aggression can arise in animals who are physically sound. Many of these behavior issues will not show up in the shelter, nor will they show up in a short-term foster environment. It's only when you get that new pet into your home and they become comfortable with their new environment, that those issues will arise. Once again, treating a behavior problem can be done, but it will involve a significant amount of your time, and will incur financial costs as well. The bottom line is this: While you may so badly want to adopt that special needs dog you see online, you need to remove the rose-colored glasses and look at that pet pragmatically. Are you prepared physically, emotionally, and financially to take on that pet and what it will need in order to thrive? It's okay to say no. Saying no means that pet has a chance to find the person who is a better fit for his/her special needs.
As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.