For as long as I have lived on Rusty Metal Farm, dogs have shared our space.
Over the years I’ve dealt with dogs who follow their hound-noses to trouble, dogs who have been attacked by bears, dogs who have eaten all manner of things requiring emergency care and of course dozens of Rusty Metal Kennel sled dogs who have pulled me over miles of snowy Maine trails.
I’ve chased down loose dogs, triaged, bandaged, splinted and otherwise nursed countless dogs with injuries ranging from broken toe nails to broken bones.
After three decades of this, I really felt confident in considering myself a dog expert.
This was before Rusty Metal Farm’s newest canine Chiclet moved in.
Every dog that came before Chiclet had one thing in common — they were all big dogs, ranging between 50 and 75 pounds on average. Even growing up we had large dogs at home.
Chiclet on the other hand?
She was a skinny, scared little rescue dog when she was removed from a high kill shelter and weighed just 4.5 pounds.
Thanks to the wonderful people who fostered her, she was up to 5 pounds when I got her a little over 18 months ago. Today she tips the scales at her healthy tiny-dog weight of 5.5 pounds.
Best guess on her breed is a cross between Chihuahua and Yorkshire terrier. But it’s a guess based solely on her appearance and behaviors. She is a happy, obedient (for the most part), sweet dog who gets along with the all the other furry and feathered critters on Rusty Metal Farm.
When people meet her for the first time, the universal response is “She’s so tiny!”
And therein lies the rub.
I had erroneously assumed a dog one-tenth the size of my other dogs past and and present would be one-tenth the work. I could not have been more wrong. The tinier the dog, the larger the learning curve.
Luckily, in this I was not alone. My friend Julie had adopted an even tinier rescue dog about six months before I got Chiclet.
Her dog, Lil Bean, is a 3.5 pound chihuahua and was the tiniest dog by far she had ever owned.
By having Julie blaze the tiny dog trail, she knew exactly how to calm me down when I called in a panic the second day I had Chiclet and told her my new pooch had been gagging for an extended period of time after eating a small piece of pasta.
Julie was able to tell me tiny dogs like Chihuahuas or mixes could not tolerate pasta because of their teeny esophagi. That was an emergency flight to Angel Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston avoided.
Likewise, she was able to explain Chiclet’s fondness for burrowing under blankets or making pillow forts under piles of cushions — digging traits associated with our small breeds.
Thanks to Julie, I appreciated the seriousness of dressing Chiclet for the weather — once I got over the fact I now actually had a dog that needed clothes in cold weather because of her lack of a natural heavy fur coat.
Ever try to dress a tiny dog? Imagine dressing a spider monkey that can go completely limp one second only to then spring up and leap on top of your head the next.
We’ve got the hang of it and now, thanks to friends and family who have made or gifted clothes to Chiclet, she has a wardrobe that’s larger and truthfully more fashionable than mine.
Living on Rusty Metal Farm meant I got a crash course on how to keep a tiny dog safe in a rural setting.
With my other dogs, I had little fear walking the farm with them as they could hold their own against any wild critter that came along. And I could simply open the door to let them out when they were answering a call of nature.
With Chiclet, I am on constant alert lest a fox or coyote attack from the ground or a soaring hawk snatch her from above. I can never let her out unsupervised.
Heck, even the Rusty Metal chickens have ganged up on her a couple of times. The first time I introduced her to the flock, I could see their beady eyes trying to size her up and figure out exactly what this new, tiny creature was.
As she stood in the grass attempting — unsuccessfully — to stare them down, the entire flock rushed her and within seconds she was in the center of a feathery, squawking maelstrom. Chickens to the left, chickens to the right and even chickens flying overhead. She looked like the world’s tiniest traffic crossing guard at rush hour. Other than a few errant feathers caught in her fur, Chiclet emerged from the experience unscathed.
The Rusty Metal pond? I shudder to think what the trophy-sized leeches living just beneath its surface could do if they latched on to a tiny dog.
But, 18 months into our relationship, Chiclet does seem to fancy herself a farm dog. She’s lost her fear of the chickens and now attempts to herd away from the house if she feels they are in anyway infringing on her territory. If only they took her seriously.
When the tractor comes out, she’ll jump in beside me to ride along. She helps me inspect the farm’s woodlots, field roads and, most recently, our wild berry crops. Turns out Chiclet is an expert forager and able to locate and pick the plumpest and ripest wild strawberries and raspberries. Maybe someday she will learn to share.
Who knew she’d end up being arguably the best-dressed farm dog in northern Maine?
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