Tiny Paws Rescue SA and the 51 Chihuahuas


Written by Lizette Muller – Director of Tiny Paws Rescue

Chihuahuas are famous for their small size, big personalities, and adorable features. Unfortunately, their popularity is also their downfall. In 2016 it became apparent that many unwanted Chihuahuas were ending up in kennels and shelters.

Little dogs in big trouble

Chihuahuas – or Chi’s – are lovely little dogs but they do need exercise, consistent training and a lot of socialisation to prevent them developing behavioural problems such as snappiness, suspicion towards strangers or resource guarding of “their” person. They’re also at risk of overbreeding to keep up with demand, leading to genetic problems and an excess of dogs. This means more Chi’s finding themselves homeless.

But it’s not as simple as just sending them to a shelter. Because they’re so small, they’re at greater risk of low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia), particularly when stressed.

Kennel stress can lead to dropped glucose levels, which, if unmanaged, can result in coma or death. Our love and understanding for this breed made us realise how imperative it was to avoid a kennel-type environment.

A fostering system needed to be put in place to keep the little ones in a home environment to lower stress levels and offer correct care. And, so, Tiny Paws Rescue was born. We are now a registered NPC (2017/128358/08) that specialises in the rescue of mostly Chihuahuas but occasionally other small-breed doggies in need too.

51 Chihuahuas

Fast forward to early 2018 and things took an interesting change for Tiny Paws Rescue: a breeder had decided to close their breeding programme down and wanted to surrender 51 Chihuahuas into our care. Easier said than done.

Of course, not wanting to give the breeder a chance to have second thoughts on the cessation of their breeding programme, we accepted wholeheartedly. But taking in retired breeder dogs is a challenge for any rescue, and, at this scale, it equalled a mammoth task.

Weeks of planning and coordination lay ahead before we could collect them. There would be seniors, adults, and pups, all with their own specific needs. We had to ensure we’d be ready to receive such a large group of Chi’s.

Emotional challenges ahead

What the public aren’t aware of is that retired breeder/puppy mill dogs are wired differently because they’ve never experienced normal lives. They need rehabilitation and social integration; swift rehomings are entirely out of the question. Many will have extended stays until such time as they are completely rehabilitated… which can take months.

The emotional challenges that retired breeder dogs face are things we take for granted with domestic rescues. These dogs have never lived in a home so the “home environment” is frightening and overwhelming at first, with thousands of new smells, sounds, etc. Although they have long names on paper, most have never actually even been called by name.

Most are severely hand-shy due to lack of emotional support given in kennels; even something as simple as human contact can be too much. Humans reaching out to pick them up can lead to severe anxiety; holding and cuddling, spending time on human’s laps – all of it can be a very stressful process for the dogs.

We knew from the onset that going into this uneducated or unguided was out of the question. A proper desensitisation and integration programme/plan was essential.

The big rescue

On a cold, rainy 12th of May 2018, we set out at 02h30 in the morning to hit the long road to the breeding kennels.

08h00 saw us hard at work in the freezing weather sorting through kennel after kennel; we made notes, took pictures, noted genders, ages, issues, and anything else to help us identify our charges.

Many of them were so nervous with all the strange faces and hands reaching out that they soiled themselves and volunteers. This didn’t deter us for one second as our mission was clear: to get all the kennels empty. 

We had a few scares with some Chi’s whose sugar levels dropped severely due to stress. Because we know the breed, we’d brought emergency glucose and honey that we could give them to avoid them having seizures in the process.

On the road again

By midnight, every kennel was empty and every Chihuahua was accounted for. Tired and filthy dirty, we hit the road back to Johannesburg with our new charges.

The work didn’t end there. Our new arrivals had to be fed, watered and tucked up in bed. Exhausted, we flopped into our own beds. The next morning would bring such joy seeing little ones playing on grass for the very first time. 

Helping hands to the rescue

We were so fortunate to have received the services of an animal behaviourist, an animal communicator, and the assistance of a knowledgeable retired breed-dog rehabilitator. We are blessed to have a 24-hour carer for all our Chi’s to monitor stress levels and take care of area cleanliness and overall comfort.

This gives us a great advantage to guarantee the success of the rehabilitation of these precious Chihuahuas.

Our foster and adoption homes are selected with extremely high criteria. Only people with lots of knowledge of the breed and who show great patience and compassion towards the ongoing socialisation and rehabilitation are considered. This ensures successful adoptions – and happy Chihuahuas.

We are actively looking for good fosters. The perfect foster is someone who can grasp the emotional needs and requirements of retired breeder dogs and assist us with the ongoing rehabilitation by offering them a temporary home and family where they’ll be able to heal.

How you can help

Aside from fostering, we also welcome volunteers. Our volunteer programme is an integral part of our rehabilitation plan, and we’re always looking for people willing to offer their time to spend with these little ones to offer them the human affection and contact they’ve experienced so little of.

With this in mind, we started hosting volunteer’s days at Kanthaka Animal Communication and Healing Centre in Delmas, Gauteng. We assessed our chi’s for “public readiness” and then selected those that were ready to join the volunteer’s day. This took place under guidance of our animal behaviourist and communicator, and we ensure the chi’s are coping with the contact. The feedback we get helps us know when they’re ready for adoption.

Our biggest challenge is funding for our vet care, sterilisations and vaccinations; this consumes a massive part of our funding. These payments can be paid directly into our veterinary account at Kempton Animal Hospital – Bank: First National Bank, Branch: 205-609, Account Type: Cheque, Account Number: 62235601970, Reference: Tiny Paws.

For more information about Tiny Paws Rescue SA, contact Lizette on 083 441 3148 or Tersia on 073 169 0288, email tinypawsrescue.sa@gmail.com, and follow them on Facebook @TinyPawsRescueSA.