Storytime: The Surprise Inside

From Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Chihuahuas

The Surprise Inside

Chihuahua rescue 

The moment I heard about the puppy mill/hoarding bust in Arizona, I knew I would have one of the rescued dogs. Authorities had found 800 suffering, toy breed dogs, neglected and living in squalor, in a triple-wide mobile home. Many were giving birth as animal control quickly whisked them away, and several had severe injuries like paws chewed off from fights. Their living space appeared to be indoor plastic crates crammed with dogs or equally crowded outdoor pens.

The Arizona shelter simply did not have the capacity to accommodate such a huge influx of dogs, so the Marin Humane Society in California stepped in with “Operation Tiny Teacup,” a rescue effort to pick up several hundred of these little passengers and relocate them to California to find forever homes.

I already had two Chihuahuas: an older girl named Smidge, and younger girl named Tidbit. Tidbit needed a younger playmate, as Smidge preferred sleeping away the days. The timing was perfect, and the Marin Humane Society was only an hour away, so I submitted an application to adopt one of the “Operation Tiny Teacup” dogs. To my surprise, the waiting list was in the hundreds! This was good news for the dogs, but bad news for me.

A week later I received word that there were a few remaining special-needs dogs for whom the shelter was hand-picking homes. These dogs were extremely under-socialized—not surprising since they had been raised with very little human contact—and their new people-filled environment was causing them tremendous stress. Because I had been in the animal care industry for so long and am knowledgeable about working with dogs with unique issues and temperaments, the shelter staff was willing to consider me as a potential adopter.

The adoption counselor had a particular dog in mind for me, a little Chihuahua named Rosey, whom I went to meet the next day. Rosey was a shaking, four-pound ball of blonde fur, and I was in love. When I picked her up, she buried her head in my arm, and instantly I knew Rosey, now Olive, would be coming home with me.

Olive spent our first month together hiding under my couch. I fed her under the couch, put potty pads under the couch, and gave her treats under the couch. Finally she started feeling a bit more adventurous and would poke her little head out to see what was going on in the world around her. I was always careful not to push her too fast and let all interactions be on her terms. When she was feeling a bit bolder, I took her to a panel of behaviorists to evaluate her and advise me on the best ways to help her relax. That appointment was the beginning of my long journey of helping to heal Olive’s emotional scars, so she could have the quality life she deserved.

I soon learned that Olive’s quirky behaviors are common among puppy mill dogs. These dogs, who are stuffed into very small cages with other dogs and only given minimal human contact, get the equivalent of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and will often have funny little triggers that send them into high-stress mode. For Olive, the sound of plastic being scraped (like soup being stirred in a plastic container) sent her into a frenzy, from which it took her up to 20 minutes to recover. I often wondered if it was because the sound was strikingly similar to nails on the side of a plastic crate (which I am sure she heard frequently in her former environment). She also was severely copraphagic, meaning she constantly ate her own feces. This is common with mill dogs because they often have to compete with many other dogs for food. When dogs don’t receive adequate nutrition, they are likely to eat their stool to try and get it the second time around.

Ordinary experiences were extraordinary for Olive, since she had only seen the inside of a mobile home her whole life. She found the television fascinating—staring intently at it while tilting her little head from side to side in the inquisitive way dogs do when they are listening. On the other hand, cars absolutely terrified her, and I had to work very slowly to get her used to car rides.

I have now had Olive for a year and have seen an amazing transformation. Just as some olives are hiding tasty pimientos in their center, my shivering, terrified Olive had a playful, outgoing dog stashed inside! She loves nothing more than to cuddle with me in bed, solicit belly rubs, and keep my elderly dog, Smidge, on her toes. She has brought a warmth and playfulness to my household that was never there before. From her dismal beginnings to her amazing recovery, she is a shining example of the resilience and forgiveness that is the true nature of a dog. –Jessica Stout

In Memoriam: Little Lifeline

We were extremely saddened to hear about the passing of Ben, who was featured in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Chihuahuas. After being rescued, Ben went on to serve a very important purpose as a companion and seizure alert dog for Sandy, who loves him very much. To honor him, we would like to share his story here today:

Little Lifeline 

Chihuahua dog rescue

Epilepsy plagued Sandy for most of her 65 years. Seven brain surgeries and multiple medications controlled her seizures to the extent that she could have a job and lead a somewhat normal life, but several years ago the seizures worsened, and working was no longer possible. Sandy was seriously depressed after losing the job that anchored her and made her feel productive.

Sandy’s seizures were caused by a slow-growing, benign tumor, which returned each time it was surgically removed. In a last-ditch effort, surgeons dug deep into her brain during an eleven-hour, grueling operation to remove the tumor, and Sandy hasn’t had a seizure since. Every day she takes a hodgepodge of medication to calm the electrical activity in her brain, and even though she hasn’t experienced a seizure lately, with such an extensive medical history, the unexpected can still occur.

Constantly plagued by a fear of collapsing at home or having an embarrassing seizure in public, Sandy looked for a solution. Her husband, Bud, couldn’t be with her all the time, but a seizure alert dog could. According to the Epilepsy Foundation in Landover, MD, seizure alert dogs are trained or have learned to warn their humans of an impending seizure. Dogs might bark, lie down, or run in circles, but only a handful has this special ability, and there is no reliable way to test for it. No one breed is better at detecting seizures than another. Armed with a new hope of finding a dog who could perform this special task, Sandy started searching the Internet and found Arizona Chihuahua Rescue.

Around that same time, I had rescued a depressed, black and tan Chihuahua from certain euthanization at our county animal control—he had simply been there too long, and the shelter was getting too full to keep him around. At home we named him Ben, and once he was out of the kennel environment, his personality emerged. We discovered him to be a strong-willed, attractive, intelligent little guy who loves people, and after bringing him up to date on his shots, he met Sandy and her husband. Sandy and Ben just clicked, and Ben actually chose Sandy at their introductory meeting by paying special attention to her.

Sandy adopted Ben, and it turned out this nine-pound wonder did indeed have the special sense to anticipate her seizures. Ben completed extensive behavior training courses and was entered into the Arizona Registry of Service Animals. He’s since been issued an official Americans with Disabilities Act card, which legally allows him to accompany Sandy wherever she goes (restaurants, grocery stores, churches, movie theatres, etc).

Sandy now feels safer with her little dog at her side because Ben knows to tell her if a seizure is coming, so she can prepare. She says he’s her guardian angel, giving her confidence and encouragement to go outside.

Just think: Ben went from almost losing his life as an “expiring” pound puppy to giving a woman a whole new “leash” on life. Way to go, Ben! –Barb Rabe and Debra J. White