Napoleon has been one of the most influential dogs in my life. So much so, his face is tattooed on my foot so he’ll walk with me every day for the rest of my life.
People assume that I must be fanatical in my love for Chihuahuas, particularly when they see my tattoo or know that I started one of Australia’s biggest Chihuahua Rescue charities. However, believe it or not, the chihuahua isn’t my all time favourite breed. I wouldn’t even rank them in my top three. I certainly know the breed as well as anyone could and I am highly skilled at wrangling an aggressive chihuahua, but if you ask me to pick my “favourite” breeds, I’d place Fox Terriers, Labradors and Poodles higher than the chihuahua.
So how did I find myself rescuing and rehabilitating hundreds of chihuahuas? In truth, it started with Minnie. Minnie was a poorly bred “designer dog” – a victim of a greedy pet store, being sold as a so called “teacup foxie”. She was a teeny tiny little chihuahua x mini foxie, weighing in at about 500grams when I met her. Minnie had the double whammy of both umbilical and inguinal hernias, the cost of which to repair was more than her “worth” to the store owner. He said it was better to euthanize her, which is how she made her way home in my handbag that day.
Minnie was the most spectacular little dog. She was incredibly good natured, feisty and funny, loving and affectionate. But Minnie’s genetics worked against her and by the time she was 12 months old, she had vision problems, severe luxating patellas and chronic skin issues. By the time she was 18 months, weighing in at 1.8kg, Minnie developed a seizure disorder. I was away in Qld for few weeks at the time of her first seizure and Minnie was being cared for by my parents at our home in Darwin. They rushed her to the vet who prescribed some medication. However, one morning Minnie went out to the toilet and didn’t return. My parents found her dead under a tree in the garden, having suffered another sudden and severe seizure, which was fatal.
The loss of Minnie was absolutely devastating. She meant the world to me and I was beside myself. I vividly recall a conversation with my father where he said (hoping to comfort me) “It’s okay. You’ll have another dog who you’ll love just as much.”
In retrospect, his words were not intended to be taken literally, however in my foolish young stupor, I did. Within weeks of the loss of Minnie, I brought home Napoleon the chihuahua.
My mother was not happy. She said under no circumstance was I to bring another dog home. I needed to negotiate and get dad on my side asap. Through tears, I pleaded with him. I’d just broken up with my first love, a boy who I’d been certain was “the one”. I told dad I couldn’t possibly lose my puppy too. It worked, and Napoleon and I flew home to Darwin together. Mum was not happy.
Napoleon didn’t really endear himself to my mother. He was everything Minnie was not; he was very naughty, temperamental, an escape artist, difficult to train and an all round pest. I was so taken aback, I thought chihuahuas would all be like Minnie. I was so wrong.
Napoleon went from being an annoyance to my mother to being her pint sized enemy. Her grief for Minnie made her dislike for Napoleon worse. I needed to get my little chihuahua pup under control, and so began a huge journey of learning which would develop into a passion for dog training and behaviour that would span over many years. Through the help of a trainer who specialised in aggressive rottweilers, I learnt so much and changed my approach to Napoleon completely.
By the time Napoleon was middle aged, I was someone who my vet collegues called on to help with chihuahuas with behaviour issues. In 2014, I founded Chihuahua Rescue Queensland, a charity that continues today.
Napoleon is now 14. He has gone from being a right ratbag to being one of the best natured chihuahuas I know. Whilst he still has a very strong cheeky streak, and loves to play up for my husband Warwick, he really is a fantastic little dog.
Napoleon has journeyed through life with me as my constant and faithful companion. He was at our wedding and has seen me through so much, both good times and devestating dark days too.
As for my mum and Napoleon, they are now the best of friends. When mums Poodle died in 2016, she was grief stricken. Diezel died within days of Briar being born, when mum was staying with us in Canberra. If there is one trait that chihuahuas undoubtably have, its empathy. Napoleon was such a wonderful comfort to mum in the weeks and months after we said goodbye to Diezel.
Although he seemed to adapt to the birth of Briar, Napoleon gradually changed in the months followed her birth.
By the time Briar was about three months old, I was growing more and more concerned about Napoleon. He had become withdrawn and depressed, struggling to cope with an infant in the house. We decided to trial him having an extended holiday with my mum down in Bendigo, an arrangement that benefitted them both. Napoleon thrived in the quieter home and he spent almost a year with my mum.
When mum moved to QLD to live with my sister, we all knew he wouldn’t cope with my two rambunctious nephews, so he came back to us. Napoleon settled back in without any problems. It was as though he had just needed that break, albeit he did visit us very frequently in the year he was with my mum.
Since he was about nine, Napoleon has had elevated liver enzymes and some adrenal gland and gallbladder issues. Medication and frequent ultrasounds, combined with a special diet, have kept him comfortable and happy. However lately his water intake has gone through the roof, he’s losing weight and his once shiny coat is looking dull and dry.
This past weekend he has been in the care of one of my collegues whilst our family has been in Adelaide. He’s undergoing tests and I’m anticipating abnormal ACTH stim tests.
Napoleon is slowing down, he’s struggling. In my heart I’m uncertain if he’ll make it through winter. But if theres one thing I am certain of, its that I will make the kindest decisions for my beloved Napoleon. He has taught me so much and been by my side through the hardest years of my life. He is so special and I have so much to thank him for. This little dog has truly had an unforgettable impact on my life.