Tiny Chihuahua gets big help

Best Friends in Atlanta works collaboratively with area shelters, animal welfare organizations and individuals to save the lives of pets in shelters in the region. The Best Friends Pet Adoption Center is a lifesaving hub for animals and a base for local programming and coalition-building to help the metro-Atlanta area in its final push to achieve no-kill, while strengthening the movement in the Southeast. Together, we will Save Them All.

When Ella was surrendered to the Cobb County Animal Services shelter, it was clear that the tiny Chihuahua puppy, who was then just two days old, had huge challenges ahead of her.

Ella was born with only two feet. The person who brought Ella to the shelter told the staff that Ella’s mother would not nurse her. And that put Ella’s life at even greater risk. But the puppy was in good hands (literally, some might say) because Anna Raines was there that day. The community cat coordinator for Best Friends in Atlanta, Anna helps run the community cat program (in partnership with Cobb County) at the shelter. And when she cradled the tiny puppy in her palms, she knew that Best Friends could give Ella the lifesaving care she needed.

Help for a newborn puppy with special needs

“We just needed to get her past the scary part of her journey,” says Dr. Natalie Duncan, the Best Friends veterinarian who treated Ella. “For most shelters, there are two options: euthanasia or a foster home willing to take on a neonatal special-needs pup. Thankfully, we had the latter.”

Anna offered to foster Ella, but first Dr. Natalie treated Ella’s limbs with an antiseptic solution and antibiotics. “I also gave her a very small dose of pain medication and prayed she would make it through the night,” says Dr. Natalie. It’s risky to anesthetize a two-day-old puppy and attempt surgery, so it became a waiting game to see how her body responded.

Tiny Ella proved to be a mighty fighter. She responded well to Dr. Natalie’s treatment and, with her body on the mend, it was time for Anna to do the job Ella’s mom could not.

Ella the Chihuahua, when still a very tiny puppy, showing nubs where the legs should be

Healing in a foster home

Besides feeding Ella every two hours, Anna had to provide the warmth a mother usually does to keep the newborn puppy’s temperature at a safe level. “She was a needy little baby and required a lot of attention,” says Anna, who brought Ella to work with her every day in the van she uses for the community cat program.

After a few months, Ella was strong enough to eat on her own and she learned how to adjust her weight so she could walk. That’s when the world opened up for her and she began enjoying life as a playful, happy puppy.

Ella was getting around and getting along with Anna’s four dogs and her baby. She was growing up, and was soon ready for a home of her own. It would have to be a very special one, though, with a family who could give Ella the care and attention she still needed to help her navigate life with two partial legs. 

Top 10 reasons to foster a pet

A family where Ella fits in perfectly

Anna was fully prepared for it to take some time before the right family for Ella came along. But the perfect home for Ella turned out to be closer than anyone could have imagined.

Ella the Chihuahua lying on a mat with her little leg on a pink toy

Soon after Anna shared Ella’s photo and details about her on Facebook, her post made its way to Alicia Williams. Alicia knew firsthand how to care for a little dog with missing limbs, because her Chihuahua, Roo, is missing his front legs.

If you’ve seen photos and video of an adorable little two-legged dog who is best friends with a fluffy chicken, you’ve met Roo and Penny. The silkie chicken was rescued from a testing facility and became fast friends with Roo.

When Alicia saw Ella’s profile online, she thought the tiny pup might fit right in at her home, so she arranged a time with Anna to meet her. “When Alicia came into the picture, I knew it was meant to be,” says Anna. “There couldn’t have been a more perfect fit.”

That day, Roo and Penny got a new forever friend, and Ella found a family who understands how inspiring living with animals with special needs can be. “She and Roo play together, but they are also very gentle with one another,” says Alicia. “They’re both just a little more fragile than other dogs.”

Two dogs, Ella and Roo, drinking out of the same cup

Ella and Roo the dogs lying together in a small, round pet bed

How Ella gets around

While Roo uses a wheelchair custom-designed for him, Ella gets around by positioning her weight so she can balance well enough to get anywhere she wants to go. Alicia says that because Ella is missing partial limbs on the same side of her body, it makes fitting her with a device like a wheelchair a little more complicated. Instead, she’s investigating the possibility of having prosthetics made for Ella.

Ella the Chihuahua standing at the feet of a person

In the meantime, Ella isn’t letting anything slow her down. “She runs on one side and is quite active,” says Alicia, who brings her to work with her every day. That has been good for Ella, who can be shy when meeting new people. “She’s learning how to be independent, and she gets to meet a lot of different people, so it’s helped her be more outgoing.”

When you have two dogs and a chicken with special needs, each day is another chance to see how obstacles are also opportunities. Alicia says, “Dogs like Ella, who face medical challenges, may not be the simplest or easiest cases, but if you take time to understand their struggles and triumphs, they make life fantastic and so rewarding.”

Ella the Chihuahua running in the grass

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Photos by Nichole Dandrea and courtesy of Anna Raines