Everything’s Rosie: The Life of a Special-Needs Rescuer and Her Chihuahua, Part I

Sarah Sypniewski

Cinnamon and Rosie

Cinnamon Muhlbauer is a long-time special-needs animal rescuer who lives at and volunteers with Hope Ranch Animal Rescue in Malibu, CA. Although she’s cared for special-needs pets for over two decades, her newest rescue, Rosie, is in a class all her own.

In June 2012, Cinnamon got a desperate call from her friend Anna Peries, who had stumbled upon a yard sign advertising free dogs in Woodland Hills, CA. Anna discovered the residents had been evicted and were racing to re-home their more than 30 dogs, cats, and turtles. They hadn’t spayed or neutered their pets; they just let them multiply at will. Now they were giving them away to anyone - without screening - so Anna jumped in to save as many as she could. Most of them bore signs of visible neglect (a result of irresponsible, thoughtless breeding and lack of proper nutrition and medical care), but the one who was clearly in the most trouble was a Chihuahua named Rosie. She couldn’t extend her legs fully, her jaw was narrow like an anteater’s, her nails were severely overgrown, and her fur was barely there. She was very young, but in severe physical distress. When Anna saw Rosie’s state, Cinnamon immediately came to mind and she texted Cinnamon a photo. After seeing Rosie’s photo, Cinnamon jumped into action and got Rosie (and others) to safety. Cinnamon and her husband Eddie have since officially adopted Rosie--a match that was meant to be.

In the first of a special two-part series, Cinnamon tells us about how she got started caring for special-needs animals and what it takes to keep them happy and healthy.

Tell us about the various special-needs pets you care for.

“Honestly, Eddie and I’ve rescued so many special-needs dogs in the last 20 years, it’d take a ream of paper to tell the story! I’ve been rescuing cats all of my life. As a couple, we worked with feral cats and then added senior dogs and cats to the mix. Then two mentors of mine asked us to take a mother and son pair of Miniature Eskies from a puppy mill in Montana--those two were so physically and mentally damaged, it took six years for the son to allow me to touch him. We’ve also taken in quite a few hospice cases – animals diagnosed with terminal illnesses but still energetic and happy enough to live another comfortable six months to two years. Those rescues are the hardest--you know you’re opening yourself up for a lot of pain, but looking back, we’ve no regrets.

Charity - Chihuahua on wheels

In terms of physical disabilities, our Chicken Little was our first seriously disabled dog. She was from a backyard breeder and the family who bought her knew they were picking the sickliest looking pup--but didn’t know they were taking on a dog they could do nothing to help. Their vet said she was neurologically damaged and recommended euthanasia. Instead, they turned her into Chihuahua Rescue and a contact there asked me to take her. We thought we were getting a hospice case, but to make a long story short, I fashioned a neck brace for her and she had a wonderful eight years with us. She had an odd gait, had difficulty with stairs, and we had to keep her from jumping off the couch (she could’ve snapped her spinal cord), but she had an incredible life. She passed in June 2011 and I still can’t talk about her without falling apart. She was the strongest, most determined little soul I’d ever met until Rosie came along. Chicken Little gave us the confidence to take in Gabriel and Charity, Chihuahuas that suffered spinal injuries before they were rescued, and Pogo, a Chihuahua without front legs. It seems dogs with mobility issues have become our specialty.”

Can you remember back to what your process was in deciding to take on a special-needs pet for the first time?

“That’s a tough question to answer. Initially, I rescued animals I thought I could place in good homes, or--in the case of feral cats--I took them in with the idea that they didn’t have to love or trust me, but I could give them a safe and secure place to live. When we branched into seniors and terminally ill animals, I think anger motivated me at first. Giving that animal another chance to be loved, or to be there for him when his time came, was the best revenge on an uncaring owner. And, for the animals whose owner had passed, I hoped it gave them peace to know their loved one was safe. This type of rescue is really difficult. One year, we lost a dog about every two months and even though these losses were expected, it wears you down. After Chicken Little passed, Eddie and I decided we needed to take a break from hospice and special-needs rescue. That moratorium lasted nearly a year…because along came Rosie.”

What are some common myths about special-needs pets?

“I think the biggest myth is that they’re more work than they’re worth or more work than one can handle. That’s simply not true. None of my special-needs pets have ever required more than 30 or 45 minutes of additional time than an average dog. Putting food through a blender and using wee pads takes less time than it does to walk a dog several times a day and I don’t have to put on my shoes! There’s also this idea that they can’t be happy. A dog like Rosie doesn’t know she’s different, so her life is good/not good compared to what? She’s warm, fed, cuddled, gets fresh air, has friends [author’s note: 40,000 and counting!], has what she needs and that is – quite tragically – more than so many other animals experience.“

I imagine if someone is thinking of adopting a special-needs pet, they often turn to you for advice and insight. What do you tell them?

“I tell them to do it. I tell them to expect disappointments, be willing to accept joy, trust their instincts, and get a good vet that supports their pet. I also tell them that if they are not okay with having another life dependent on them for the next 15-20 years, they should not have any pet.”

In Part II, Cinnamon shares with us what life with Rosie is like and how - together - they advocate for special-needs pets and the humans who love them worldwide.

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