When I first saw photos of Rosie -– with her needle-nose snout, devastatingly misaligned jaw and teeth, severely bowed legs, and pinky-purple skin with hardly a patch of fur — I figured someone was having fun with Photoshop, morphing a pig and a rat and a dog and some other zany stuff together. It was a startling, even a bit disturbing, but I reasoned that she couldn’t be real.
But as I’d come to find out, Rosie is very real -– a product of backyard breeding and animal hoarding. She may be shocking to look at, but inside she’s a beauty, full of love, intelligence, and an incredible will to live.
Rosie is one of 20 dogs pulled by rescuers from a house in Woodland Hills, Calif., last week. She is the worst of the group, which is saying something, because two other rescued Chihuahuas -– some form of sibling or half-sibling to Rosie — have no front legs at all.
Dogster caught up with the woman who found the dogs and instigated the rescue, as well as Rosie’s new “mom.” We bring you their exclusive story.
Hey, Want a Cute Little Dog or Two — or 20?
Kate Hannah (name changed at her request) was walking her dogs around her neighborhood when she saw a sign reading “Chihuahuas for Free.”
She came back to tell the residents — a woman in her 60s and her thirtysomething daughter — why that was a bad idea. She explained to them about dogfighters who pounce on free or cheap dogs to use as bait dogs, and how dangerous it can be for animals to go to unscreened new homes and owners.
The women told her they had a menagerie of 20 or so tiny pooches they were trying to get rid of. They said the woman’s grandmother started breeding them a few years back, and they “sort of kept things going” when she died a couple of years ago. They said it was more that they let it get out of control, since none of the dogs were spayed or neutered because they couldn’t afford it. So things happened, sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident -– sometimes probably between canine brother and sister, father and daughter or granddaughter, mother and son; you name it.
The hoarders told Hannah that local authorities were pushing them to leave the house before they were forced out through foreclosure. In desperation, they’d found homes for more than 20 dogs the previous week. They were delighted to report that one man had taken a whole litter of young pups — but Hannah felt sick when she thought about their possible fate.
Hannah has been involved in rescue for years, and realized she had to get every dog out of there. She asked to see the dogs, and the women brought them out to the front yard one by one.
It may seem preposterous, but Hannah says the women seemed to genuinely care about the dogs, giving their names, telling about their personalities, and snuggling them like babies. She said that it isn’t uncommon that hoarders love their animals, albeit in a highly irresponsible way.
The women said they wanted to make sure the dogs didn’t wind up in cages at shelters, because they were used to running free at home. They couldn’t bear thinking of the dogs perishing in cages, or, worse yet, being euthanized if no homes could be found.
The dogs were mostly Chihuahuas, and most had terrible flea problems. Some were underweight, but they seemed generally in good health.
But there was Conner, a 13-year-old Bichon mix who was so badly matted that even his eyes were covered with fur. Hannah took him to a groomer later and had him shaved down. She later learned that he was both blind and deaf.
Two of the dogs the women showed her had been born without front legs — not an uncommon trait in bad breeding practices. Still, they managed to move pretty well, even scooting quickly at times, and seemed in good spirits.
There was still one dog the women didn’t want to show Hannah. “You don’t want to see her,” she says they told her. But she insisted. “Prepare yourself,” they told her as they went inside to get the last dog.
The Shock of Rosie
Despite Hannah’s long history of animal rescue, nothing could have prepared her for Rosie. “I was in a complete state of shock,” she says. “But I didn’t show it. I needed to get her out of there and didn’t want anything to prevent this.”
In addition to all the deformities described at the start of this article, Rosie’s bulging light-blue eyes have permanently dilated pupils, adding to her strange appearance, and probably causing her a great deal of discomfort in bright light. If you ever got your pupils dilated for an eye exam and left the doctor’s office without sunglasses, you’ll know the blinding, distorted sensation.
Continue reading this story over at Dogster. (It has a happy ending, thank goodness.)
About the Author: Maria Goodavage is a contributing editor for Dogster Magazine. She is also the author of Soldier Dogs, a NYT Bestseller.