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.
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 sixties 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.
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.
The hoarders said Rosie was in no pain and was able to get around pretty well, getting herself outside to go to the bathroom. Hannah didn’t see how this was possible, but she continued the pleasantries. The hoarders seemed very fond of Rosie, showering her with affection as they held her close for photographs. The older woman called her “Little Valentine,” since she was born on Feb 14, 2010.
Hannah learned that two other deformed dogs had been adopted out during the previous week, when the women were giving dogs to any taker. Some people prize odd-looking dogs. In fact, in Japan, dogs have routinely been inbred to create startling results. A New York Times article from 2006 stated that highly unusual small dogs can fetch as much as $8,600.
The blue merle coloring Rosie’s (in)breeders may or may not have been trying to get often comes with a slew of genetic defects. Puppies in these genetic experiments are often born so horribly deformed that they die right away or have to be killed by the breeder.
Hannah says the hoarders were proud to tell her that in their years of dealing with these dogs, not a single one –- old or young — had died. If true, that’s a real odds-beater, since at least some dogs had genetic issues — and as she found out, they all ate cheap kibble, never saw the vet, and didn’t really go outside the house.
Hannah went home and hastily posted photos and descriptions online for her friends. She was heartened at how quickly rescues came forward to help. She had already decided not to get animal control involved, because of the high chance that many of these dogs would not be seen as adoptable and thus euthanized.
Over the next couple of days, her rescue friends visited the women’s home as if they were just people, not rescue group representatives. And one by one, two by two — and in one case, six by six — the dogs started on the long road to forever homes. Every time the dogs were adopted out, the hoarders cried. “They were deeply grateful they were going to good people,” Hannah says.
Hannah was especially worried about Rosie and her deformed siblings and half-siblings. She lost sleep over them. But her co-rescuers knew event planner and animal rescuer Cinnamon Muhlbauer was a woman with a special place in her heart for the dogs many would consider unadoptable. They contacted her and held their breath.
When Muhlbauer saw the photos, she melted. She has a pig and two “wheelie” dogs (missing front legs but getting along well with carts), among other creatures, but had room in her heart and home for Rosie. She and her husband live in the Santa Monica Mountains on a 100-acre horse-rescue ranch in the Malibu area. She asked the ranch owners if they could temporarily take in Rosie’s two sibs, and brought Rosie home to live with her.
It’s only been a few days, but Rosie is already doing better. She’s gaining weight, and coping with treatment for her terrible demodectic mange. She follows Muhlbauer everywhere with her eyes, even if her little body can’t take her where she needs to go.
As for being able to go to the bathroom outside, “It was an outright lie,” says Muhlbauer. “She can’t move more than a couple of feet on her own. She’s very clean, and will manage to get away from her bed to go to the bathroom, but it is so hard.”
Rosie has a long, hard road ahead. She has so far received only a preliminary veterinary check and one shot, since doing too much at once could make her already-stressed immune system falter more. She’ll need X-rays, ongoing evaluation, possible physical therapy, more mange treatment, and lifelong help for her deformed jaw and teeth. She may need monthly non-anesthetic cleanings, since many of her lower teeth are loose, and it may be the only way for her to keep them.
Rosie has taught Muhlbauer a good trick: feeding her. Somehow the dog had survived on hard kibble, and she arrived with super-caked-in kibble cementing the roof of her mouth, back of her throat, and around her gums. Once that was cleaned up, it was easier for her to eat.
At first, Rosie ate by grazing high-quality soft food Muhlbauer gave her, kind of scooping it up. But while taking a video for Rosie’s Facebook page to show people how Rosie eats (“It’s one of the top questions I’ve been asked,” she says), Rosie didn’t like the camera so close, so Muhlbauer held up some food for her and Rosie snarfed it. Muhlbauer did it again, and the same thing happened.
Since then, Rosie has held out for hand feedings. The Facebook fans concerned that Rosie may be brain-damaged can rest easily now: She has trained her human in record time! Muhlbauer says when Rosie has gained weight (she is four-ish pounds and should be around six), she’ll wean her back to eating more independently.
Muhlbauer is livid about the condition of the dogs. “I don’t know how anyone could let her suffer and say that they love Rosie and she was their baby. How in your mind do see how that’s love? It’s like men who say, ‘I love my wife but sometimes I have to hit her.’”
Even though she is in close contact with the hoarders –- they call frequently to check on Rosie -– she says part of her feels like “hauling off and slapping them.”
Most of the dogs from this covert rescue operation are in desperate need of foster or adoptive families, and all the rescue groups need funds to help defray medical expenses. The needs are piling up: One dog had puppies on Sunday. Another is nursing two-week-old pups. Your assistance can make a tremendous difference.
You can find information on all the dogs, the rescue groups, and their needs, at Help Still Needed CA Hoarder. Rosie’s Facebook page also has links. Rosie has received about $3,600 in donations, which go straight to the veterinarian for her medical fund. She and another rescuer, Shannon Keith, have a dream that songwriter and heavy-metal musician Glenn Danzig will somehow hear about what huge fans they are and what plights these dogs are in, and volunteer to do a fundraiser for all the dogs. If Danzig or any of his friends reads Dogster, who knows what may happen?
Muhlbauer says people who can’t afford to donate often ask what they can do. She urges them to check out their local backyard breeder laws, and to lobby for strong ones. “If Rosie’s suffering has one good side, it could be creating awareness of the dangers of this kind of breeding,” she says. “She is the poster child for this.”
Sarah Sypniewski, who created the CA Hoarder Facebook page, urges everyone to get involved. “Even though [these dogs] are now out of harm’s way, we really need people’s help to network, fundraise, foster, and adopt. These animals have survived hell. They have a chance at a new beginning. And now it’s up to the rest of us to see them home — literally.”