Amelia the Tiny Chihuahua Joins a Team of Miniature Therapy Horses


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our April/May issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

She was going to die on that hike. Amelia weighed 1 pound — 1 single pound.

Her owners ignored her trudging behind them on a mountainous trail in California. Sick, bald, and struggling, Amelia labored to keep up. A bystander saw the 3-year-old Chihuahua and somehow managed to not just get her some aid but also convinced the people to relinquish ownership of the dog.

Suddenly, this Good Samaritan had a very sick, very tiny dog in her custody, so she contacted a local rescue group, which quickly flew the Mexico-bred Amelia up to Canada to a rescue group that specializes in high-needs tiny dogs. At Dhana Metta Rescue Society, Amelia gained strength, health, and some of her fur back, and within a few months in 2015, she was ready for her forever home.

But little did Amelia know she had a forever home waiting for her from nearly the moment she boarded the Wings of Rescue flight to Canada.

 although they don’t live together, amelia’s BFF is Slater, a 200-pound rescued Cane Corso. (Photo courtesy Gentle Carousel)
Although they don’t live together, Amelia’s BFF is Slater, a 200-pound rescued Cane Corso. (Photo courtesy Gentle Carousel)

Debbie Garcia-Bengochea of Gainesville, Florida, knew the people who flew that rescue mission, so a photo of Amelia made its way to her social media feed. It was love at first click. She knew that dog was hers. The need so great, Debbie called the pilot while he was in the air and told him she wanted Amelia.

While she knew she wanted the dog, Debbie didn’t know that Amelia would be a perfect companion to her therapy animal program. Twenty years ago, Debbie founded Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses. These tiny, 100-pound horses visit hospitals, care facilities, disaster sites (such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting), and other situations calling out for four-legged love. The sight of a tiny horse inside a hospital room always brings joy and smiles to patients’ faces, Debbie said.

When Amelia joined the family, the itty-bitty bundle of love was a quick learner who soaked up affection and blossomed when she had a job to do.

“She’d been through so much, but she was so loving and so outgoing and so easy to train,” Debbie said. “She couldn’t get enough attention.”

Tiny Amelia. (Photo courtesy Gentle Carousel)

Before long, Amelia began visiting patients with the therapy horses, and she was a hit. Seeing these surprisingly tiny animals created such a fairy tale atmosphere that most people forgot their own oft-difficult realities for just a short while and embraced the enchantment of the moment.

“When [Amelia] is there, [the kids] aren’t thinking about chemo or being sick. They are thinking of this tiny dog who is friends with [tiny] horses,” Debbie said. “It’s a little bit of magic. She makes people feel like she really cares about them. Kids can relate to her.”

Especially when they find out Amelia’s past: sick, struggling, hair loss, health problems. It’s like she knows what these kids are also navigating through, and kids see that. They also see that she is a survivor, and they can be, too.

“There’s that part of hope. Amelia is just this little fighter,” Debbie said. “She’s fearless. She has no idea she weighs 2 pounds.”

It doesn’t matter that Amelia, or the horses for that matter, are smaller than average. They can make a big difference regardless of size — or sometimes because of it. This is another message Amelia brings to the table whenever she puts on her custom-made therapy dog vest and visits sick children.

(Photo courtesy Gentle Carousel)
Amelia getting comfy. (Photo courtesy Gentle Carousel)

“There are so many things someone who is small can do,” Debbie said. “They are all making a difference. Kids like the idea that someone who is small can do big things.”

A note on small dogs: While Amelia might look like a living doll, extremely small dogs are not toys. Being just 1 pound at her rescue presented extreme health dangers. She was just a single pound off of her target weight, but that meant she weighed HALF of what she normally should. Put that into perspective. Small dogs are often so tiny, illnesses and other health woes can be disastrous.

Small dogs don’t mean small responsibilities, owners have said. They need to be watched more carefully than big dogs do in certain situations because they can easily get underfoot, stepped on, or accidentally kicked or squished. Outside, they must be guarded from not just other dogs, but larger cats and wild animals who might see them as easy prey. Just handling them, either through friendly play or training, requires a gentle touch, since they are so tiny and fragile. Small dog owners want others to know that just because these pups may not take up a lot of physical space, they do require a lot of attention and responsibility.

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