When Charisma, a college student and rescue org volunteer, first met Hazel, the dog was in rough shape. She was missing lots of teeth and fur, she had scratch and bite marks all over her, and her skin was covered in itchy pustules. All the same, it was love at first sight.
Charisma didn’t care a lick about what the tiny animal looked like or about what her medical needs might entail. She believed that all rescue dogs, no matter their age or health, “deserve the world.”
Hazel was brought to OC Pom Rescue in California along with a large group of Pomeranians who were being evacuated from a hoarding situation. As the story goes, Hazel belonged to a neighbor of the hoarder who decided that this would be a good time to surrender her dog as well, because her other pets had been attacking it recently. And that’s how one single elderly chihuahua ended up in a load of 56 Pomeranians headed to a Pomeranian rescue.
“As we were loading all of the dogs off the truck, they told us there was gonna be one Chihuahua in there, and we were baffled by that,” Charisma recalls. “But when I saw her come off the truck as we were unloading them, everybody just stopped, and it was like a communal, ‘Ohh.’”
Charisma knew then, looking at that tiny fragile ball of skin and hair, that Hazel was her dog and would be coming home with her, even though she hadn’t been planning to foster or adopt at the time.
Each dog in this “Road Trip Pack” was named after a U.S. city, so Hazel’s original name was Katy (Texas). Charisma and her mom brought her home along with another foster dog from the bunch named Tulsa. Tulsa was eventually adopted, but Charisma and her family knew from the very beginning that Hazel was meant to stay with them and would be a “foster fail.”
Charisma and her 14-year-old sister, Caris, officially co-adopted the tiny nine-year-old dog and gave her her name: Hazel, as a reference to witch hazel and because it sounded like a classic old-lady name.
Charisma and her parents and four siblings have always been animal people; they’ve cared for a snake, chickens, geckos, a bird, lots of dogs (including several chihuahuas), and other animals. Their love for animals and experience with adopting rescue pets is what made Charisma want to volunteer with OC Pom Rescue in the first place. So Hazel joined a pretty full home.
Thankfully, Hazel’s a little sweetheart and gets along with everyone, including the family’s two German Shepherd mixes, a bully mix, a “mystery mutt,” and a chihuahua mixed with miniature pinscher.
“We have like a huge yard, and so the dogs get to live their best lives running around that yard, and the chickens get to enjoy the yard. We got pretty lucky. It’s almost like a little tiny farm in the middle of the suburbs.”
Of course, everything wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies at first. Hazel was stressed and scared and spent most of her time in a trembling ball. The family had to go slow and careful with her, getting her used to being part of a loving family again.
“She was very, very nervous to be touched,” Charisma recalls. “She would kind of cower away a little bit. She just was not very trusting at all. She was very overwhelmed by that point.”
It quickly became evident that Hazel hadn’t been walked on a leash much and was never properly potty-trained. And while you can teach an old dog new tricks, it’s a lot trickier than teaching a puppy. It’s been a few months since Hazel was officially adopted, but she is still working on potty training.
Hazel also has color-dilution alopecia (CDA), a disorder that occurs frequently in dogs with purple-toned colors like silver, blue, or lilac. It can be a result of irresponsible breeding, although it’s not clear exactly what happened in Hazel’s case. Either way, she requires special skincare, and her hair is sparse and delicate. Charisma doesn’t think all her hair will come back, but with proper care and treatment, they’ve at least been able to manage the itching and clear up Hazel’s skin.
“She’s seriously a little fighter, considering how she was when we brought her home versus now,” says Charisma. “She’s just awesome.”
Now that Hazel is used to her new home and family, she has done “a complete 180” and is enjoying every second of life. She loves meeting new people, being pushed around in her stroller, cuddling, and playing and loving on the other dogs.
“She’s so, so tiny,” says Charisma. “So you feel like you have to be so fragile with her. But she’s she’s a force to be reckoned with. She thinks she runs the world.”
After college, Charisma hopes to continue helping rescue animals and also continue her work with people on the autism spectrum. And all the while, she still plans to volunteer with shelter pets and foster and adopt rescue animals like Hazel. She hopes to encourage others to adopt senior pets as well.
“People still have a lot of hesitations with adopting senior dogs,” says Charisma. “And I think they’ll surprise you, because so many of the dogs that we get in, despite their age, are wonderful, loving pets. They’re so smart, and they can do incredible things. Small dogs especially can live for a very long time, so, even though we’ve adopted [Hazel] at 9, we could easily have who knows how many years with her. Any amount of time is something that we definitely are going to cherish, and we’re so lucky to be a part of her life.”