Okay, so Luca isn’t really a puppy. I rescued him in May of 2014, and he was four years old.
I wish that I had had Luca since he was a puppy. It would have saved him a lot of distress. His adoption packet said that he was a “breeder surrender” which is code for “rescued from a puppy mill” somewhere near Bethany, Missouri. The vet told me that based on what she knows about the area and on his physical condition/appearance he had probably spent most of the first four years of his life in a small cage inside a trailer. He had hair loss and a dysfunctional digestive tract due to malnutrition. His back legs are small and underdeveloped, and his front feet are almost twice as large as his back feet. He wasn’t ever able to move and play to strengthen his back end, and so it is smaller and weaker than the rest of his tiny body. He was almost two pounds under weight and afraid of pretty much everything and everyone. When I think too long about how he probably lived for the first four years of his life I lose a little hope in humanity.
It took me about four months of trial and error (and crying) to get him to actually eat his dog food, but once he started eating regularly he started to gain a little weight and some of his hair started to grow back. I was so proud when I first noticed a little bit of reddish fuzz around the edges of the black skin of his ears.
He was slowly becoming a little more trusting of my friends and family (he automatically loved my mom on sight), and didn’t run away (as far) when they tried to pet him. We were making definite progress! His personality and fun side was starting to show too.
He and Vincent were developing a more comfortable relationship as well.
However, Luca hates to go outside in the winter. He hates being cold and would much rather pee on the convenient wall rather than actually go outside (it’s been a trial in patience). But there has been some progress in this area too. Luca will never want to go outside in the snow, but he’s learned to let me help him.
Last winter was awful. Luca had never relied on anyone but himself for help and support before.
Side note: Part of his self reliance has made him a really successful scavenger. He’d be eating whatever thing he found on the ground before I even saw him notice it. Or, if I manage to get him away before he actually eats it he remembers where the thing was and goes straight for it when we walk next. It drives me a little crazy. And I don’t think that it’s likely to ever change. He trusts that I’m going to feed him now, and he knows that he’ll get a treat in the afternoon (the only hold-over from his malnutrition digestive issues is that he has an extra fast digestion process because of excess stomach acid, so he gets a treat in the afternoon to avoid an empty upset tummy), but he never ever hesitates to eat whatever thing he’s found even if I just fed him. So whatever, we manage, and sometimes he finds an extra snack.
But anyways, last winter was the worst winter I’ve possibly ever had. My apartment complex used a ton of salt on the sidewalks, and it made his tiny feet get really cold really fast. He would just try to hold them up and walk on two legs (unsuccessful every time) or three legs (somewhat more successful), and then when he’d had enough he would just start crying. And not the little whines of a dog that’s uncomfortable. He screamed like his feet were actively being ripped from his body. He’d appear to be fine and then he’d be screaming. One of the worst experiences I’ve ever had with him was when he started screaming and I picked him up to see why and he just kept screaming bloody murder as I walked all the way across the parking lot to the door of the building. I felt terrible. Nothing I did made him stop, and my hands were too cold to do any good warming his feet up. I finally put his feet directly on the skin of my face and neck to try and warm his feet up, and that made him stop screaming. I was traumatized. He was unhappy. My neighbors were staring out of their window to see why I was murdering my chihuahua.
But this year I’ve noticed a difference. It helps that my new apartment complex uses sand instead of salt, and we’re able to go on slightly longer walks, but I think that Luca forgets that his feet get cold in snow. (He refuses to wear any of the boots or rubber balloon-looking things I’ve tried.) So this morning he was happily walking down the hill by our building, tail wagging. Then, just as we were getting to the bottom he stopped, turned to me and made direct eye contact, and held up one foot. So, I picked him up, warmed his feet in my hands, and carried him back up the hill. No screaming. Not even any whining. (Not that he actually does whine. It’s just fine or the screaming.)
But this is huge progress. He knows that I’m there to help him. When he’s scared he runs to me now instead of under the bed. When his feet get cold he lets me know and trusts that I’ll make it better. And I’m ecstatic!
Less than two years ago I had a thin, tiny, delicate, scared dog that refused to make eye contact with me for the first two weeks I had him and who believed that his support system was composed of just him. Now he’s a full two pounds heavier (the vet says that he probably should only be about a pound and a half heavier, but what can you do…). He’s much more likely to be brave and explore a new space instead of just sitting in the grass. He occasionally demands that we play instead of playing by himself. And he wags his tail when he’s happy. It probably took about 9 months for him to actually wag his tail. I noticed it one day when we were walking, and he’s never stopped doing it.
It’s the little things like that that make such a big difference. I have a healthy and happy ten pound chihuahua who loves to nap under his blanket, go for walks if it’s not too cold or too hot, and can even do a few tricks. It’s taken a long time, but I think we’ve finally gotten this thing figured out. We’re ready for new adventures.