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

Sarah Sypniewski

Rosie and Cinnamon

In Part I, Cinnamon Muhlbauer talked about her experience as a longtime special-needs animal rescuer, how she got to where she is today, and how she came upon Rosie. In the second part of this series, she tells us all about the life she shares with her beloved girl and how they’re changing the world together.

Tell me about your every day routine with Rosie. Did you have to acquire anything especially for her?

“Although we are fairly equipped to handle newcomers with special needs, we had to experiment because of Rosie’s difficulty eating and drinking. We eventually found that shallow ceramic tart dishes work really well for her--she can reach the food and water without inhaling it or spilling--so we purchased those for her. Her day-to-day care is not any more expensive than caring for another animal.

As for her routine, she gets up when I do, usually with a side eye expression to indicate displeasure [at having her slumber disrupted]. I put her in her playpen so she can do her business [on a wee wee pad] while I make her breakfast. After she eats and takes another potty break, she naps on our bed while I take care of whatever has to be done around the house. She gets lunch, another potty break, and then if I have errands to run, she comes along. She loves going out, and if she sees me head to my makeup mirror, she starts her happy dance. After dinner, she watches TV with us on the couch until bedtime and then she sleeps curled up on my shoulder at night. She refuses to sleep in her playpen at night…she’s very spoiled!”

Given all of your experience with special-needs pets, is there anything about Rosie that’s surprised you or sets her apart from others?

“All of my special-needs animals have been unique in their own way. Having said that, Rosie has a quality I’ve seen in only a few of my animals – she is very empathetic. She senses emotions in other animals and in humans on a level that is unusual. At the vet one day, she stiffened up and made a little cry. She tried to move off of my lap toward an exam room. A few minutes later, I heard crying and realized a dog had been euthanized in that room. When the owner came out, she cried out. I think she was trying to communicate with the man. She heard and understood long before I had a clue.”

How can you tell what Rosie’s quality of life is, and whether she’s in pain?

“When Rosie’s happy, she sighs. She sighs the most when she’s asleep on my lap or propped up against me. She coos when she’s excited and she’ll extend and retract her legs in her version of a dog happy dance. Because she can’t express herself vocally or through her facial expression very well, I read her ears. When they are up, she’s happy. When she’s not feeling well, they’re half-mast or down. She puts them as flat as possible if she is frightened or worried. 99% of the time, her ears are full-sail, and she’s sighing or cooing. And she does her happy dance at least twice a day. I think that’s a good sign that she is enjoying her life! Oh…and her appetite. She eats really well when she’s feeling secure and comfortable.”

What special treatments, procedures, and therapies has Rosie experienced? Who are your professional partners in caring for Rosie?

“We have lots of wonderful supporters, but our main partnership is with Dr. Lupo of Malibu Vet Clinic. When I got Rosie, I drove straight to his office. He and the staff were there until long after closing time assessing what we could do. Without his ability to look at Rosie, to see her spirit and visualize a future for her, I don’t know what I would have done. I also appreciate the fact that he is optimistic without giving me false hope. We are both on the same page as to what is and isn’t possible for Rosie.

Dr. Lupo examining Rosie
(Courtesy of Cinnamon Muhlbauer)

Despite her odd body conformation, Rosie’s in good shape. In order for her to close her mouth properly, all but four of her teeth were removed. She also had to have her bottom jaw restructured, because without her teeth, there was hardly any bone. We can’t do anything to repair her underdeveloped chest bones or her misshapen legs. We’d like to build muscle in both of those areas to preserve her current level of mobility and to provide more protection for her vital organs.

She’s had water therapy, laser therapy, and massage. I believe all three of these will help maintain her overall health and build muscle tone, but we haven’t been able to do enough of these treatments to truly judge which is best and what we will continue.

Our main area of concern is her skin and getting weight on her. Several months ago, she tore a hole in the skin over her ankle that continued to tear until the bone was exposed. It’s been a struggle getting it to heal--her ankle is one of the few joints that actually bends as it should. Dr. Lupo was anticipating a skin graft, but then two really wonderful things happened: 1) one of Rosie's FB family suggested we put Rosie on a special diet from Addiction Pet Food and sent out their hypo-allergenic food for Rosie, and 2) Kino at Warrior Wound Care sent Dr. Lupo their amazing bandages that are laced with bits of metal that are positively and negatively charged. When kept damp, they react with the skin and increase the healing. The new food caused Rosie to eat again--with gusto! Her mood and her energy level improved. We had never tested her for food allergies, but it appears that her metabolism is incompatible with many of the common ingredients in dog food. And within days of applying the new bandages, there was visible improvement in Rosie's ankle. I am indebted to the folks at Warrior Wound Care and Addiction Pet Food for providing that extra push! Every week there is progress.”

What happens when you or she has a bad day—do you feel discouraged, frustrated, or tired? How do you deal with that?

Rosie before rescue

“Although I’d seen her photo, I was still unprepared for the reality of Rosie when I actually had her in my arms. I took two other dogs that day as well, and didn’t have a third crate, so I put Rosie in my lap to drive to the vet. She made no sign that she noticed I was a stranger, she didn’t acknowledge she had just been taken from her home and put in a car…I mean, she wasn’t reacting at all and I was thinking, ‘She’s not all there. What am I going to do?’ But then I called Anna to let her know I had the dogs. Our signal was bad, so I started shouting. The limp little bundle in my lap began to move and this head poked up through the blanket. Those blue eyes bored a hole in me…I swear I heard a little voice asking why was I yelling at her. I said, ‘I’m sorry sweetie, it’s not you…’ and she put her head back under the blanket. I knew at that point I had a real dog with a fully functioning brain and emotions.

I mention this because the issue with her ankle has been incredibly discouraging, frustrating, and tiring. It is my belief that she had no reason to move around [in her previous home] other than to gather food. There was no motivation to investigate her surroundings and certainly no safety in venturing out from under the furniture. So in most things, Rosie’s like that eight-week-old pup that is toddling away from mom to explore. She wants to see, taste, smell everything. She is stimulated, motivated, and can safely check out whatever interests her. But her skin is so tender, she rubs holes in it just walking across a blanket too quickly. Rubbing against her playpen can chafe her. Her mind is expanding and her desire to learn is huge, but her body isn’t able to keep up with her mind.

When I am at my wit’s end, I remember that first day. I think about how she gave me that look – her now famous stink eye – and try to remember that she never gave up and she isn’t going to throw in the towel now, either.”

Rosie spends a lot of time out and about in public. How does the public generally receive her?

“For the most part, people are amazingly sweet to her. Few people realize that she is a Chihuahua; they think she is some new breed of dog or that she is an exotic pet of some kind. Once they hear her story, they want to touch her, ask if they can take a photo with her, and want to know about her Facebook page. Most all ask if her prior owner is in jail and are disturbed to learn that she isn’t. The most touching interaction was with a group of folks visiting who were originally from India. They were enjoying a day at the Malibu Cliffs, where Rosie and I like to sit. As they walked by, they noticed her and wanted to know what she was. I told them her story and one man took off a well-loved Chakra bracelet, slipped it on my wrist, and told me I gave him faith in the world. It made me cry.

Conversely, I receive at least an email or comment every day from someone who feels Rosie is hideous, should be killed, or feels I am giving a bad name to good breeders by making her story public. No one has had the nerve to say anything negative to my face. I don’t know quite how I would react.”

Rosie is a public figure, advocate, and educator, but I wonder whether our celebration of and education through these special-needs pets could somehow backfire. Could this lead to even more irresponsible breeding--on purpose? Is this creating a “market” for birth/breeding defects?

“I do worry that people will attempt to breed another Rosie. I’ve been offered some large sums of money from people who say they just have to have her. Despite this worry, I feel she has the ability to do a lot of good for special-needs dogs. People have posted their stories on her page making their dogs’ issues public and showing what great lives they have. She has inspired folks to adopt a senior or a special-needs dog. I have connected a few dogs with adopters this way.”

After reading about Cinnamon and Rosie, what do you think about their journey or about special-needs pets in general? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

For more on Rosie’s story, including photos, her blog, and her very own store, visit www.everythingrosie.com.

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