Chicken Little Muhlbauer
The beautiful little dog in these photos is Chicken Little. In 2003, a family in the southern part of Washington wanted a Chihuahua puppy and phoned a breeder they found via their local newspaper. When they arrived at the “breeder” location, they were horrified to find a home filled with dirty pregnant or skinny nursing mothers, puppies of various ages running through feces and male dogs who were barely thriving. They noticed one puppy in particular really didn’t look good and thought they’d buy her to get her out of there. They got her home and did their best to get her healthy but she was clearly struggling and after her first round of vaccinations, she began to decline even further. They tried for a few more months but after their vet said the puppy had neurological problems and was likely going to die, they realized they didn’t have the money or the expertise to help her. They surrendered her to rescue.
The rescue assessed her and believing she was not viable, they looked for a foster home to hospice her. I’ve always had a soft spot for the animals that had challenges and knowing that, the rescue asked if I’d be willing to take her. Eddie and I had two senior dogs in hospice with us and figured what was one more poor soul?
When she arrived, we couldn’t believe she was only six months old. She struggled to get on her feet and only managed a few steps before falling. She needed support to urinate and defecate. We thought we would give her love and good food for a few days and then let her go, it seemed like the kindest thing to do. Eddie took her to work the next day in a little basket. As weak as she was, she refused to stay in the basket and insisted on draping herself across Eddie’s shoe. She quickly showed Eddie that she even with her physical challenges; mentally she was absolutely on top of her game. When Eddie came home that night he said she wasn’t going to cross any bridge just yet…she was way too feisty. Since she couldn’t lift her head, she lifted her eyes as high as they would go and scrunched up her forehead. We named her Chicken Little – we half expected her to say, “the sky is falling” at any moment – it suited her perfectly.
We took her to see a vet that specialized in acupuncture and chiropractic hoping that she might be able to help us. Chicken was x-rayed (for the first time) and the vet immediately spotted the problem. Chicken had atlantoaxial luxation – the little bone that connects the head to the spine had either never properly formed or had been damaged. The vet contacted a specialist about Chicken, his response was to send a diagram of a metal collar/harness contraption we were to build, and she was to wear 24/7. Even using the lightest metal it would weigh more than she did. He said if she survived to her first birthday, she might be able to have surgery to repair it BUT there was only a 50/50 survival rate. In 2015, this diagnosis is not so dire but in 2003, that was devastating. We took her home trying to figure out what we could do. The next morning a co-worker came in wearing a neck brace. A light bulb went on and I decided I would make Chicken a collar! I stitched together several layers of stiff backing fabric, wrapped it in soft cotton quilting material and then covered it in some guitar print fabric I had left over from making Eddie a pair of shorts. With some Velcro snaps, I encased Chicken’s neck and kept my fingers crossed that it was heavy enough to support her head. Within a few days, wearing that collar 24/7, she was able to stand. A few more days and she was able to take a few steps on a carpeted surface. We took her back to the vet and she helped me tweak the design a bit so we could ensure maximum support.
Rosie was not the first dog I rescued who’d never been able to enjoy grass and sunshine, Chicken had never had that chance either. I’d walk around the garden carrying her and showing her the trees and the flowers and told her to be patient, she’d get a chance to do this on her own soon. These photos were taken the first day she was strong enough to walk through the grass on her own. You can see the utter joy in that little face and the happiness in her as she inhaled the fresh grass.
I made Chicken baskets of collars so she’d have one for every occasion. As she grew stronger, she became the tiny terror of the house. When it came time to evaluate her for surgery, the vet agreed with our decision – no surgery…why risk losing her when she was doing fine without it.
When she needed her teeth cleaned, I took a shoehorn, put the wide scoop shaped end on her head and let the handle support the back of her neck. Fastened with an ace bandage, it kept her head from flopping back and severing her spinal cord. We had to watch her carefully or she’d launch herself off the couch or the porch – that could have been fatal – she was determined to be the alpha dog in the house. She was fearless and fierce! She ripped the beard off more than one Santa as she posed for her Christmas portrait.
In 2011, Chicken developed cancer in her neck. It spread quickly and with her neck/spine instability, they could not operate. She passed peacefully in her sleep draped across my foot. We had eight really fabulous years and she packed ten times that much action into her life. I learned how to be flexible taking care of Chicken. I learned patience from her as well. I learned a multitude of things from that tiny dynamo and am grateful for the time we had.
Because of Chicken, I didn’t flinch at taking Rosie. In many ways, Rosie’s story began with Chicken. If I hadn’t had a “hopeless” case before, I may not have been brave enough to say yes and I would have missed the chance of loving Rosie. I am still trying to find my own voice, and trying to find how to keep Rosie’s (and Chicken’s) legacy alive.
Be brave, be kind, and be true always,