(Editor’s Note:This article originally ran in Diabetes Health on January 27, 2008.)
Eight-year-old Olivia Miller asked for a Chihuahua for Christmas, but what she received was far more precious than just any pet. That’s because Olivia and her new little dog both have diabetes and today they comfort and encourage each other through the rigors of dealing with the disease.
Olivia’s family adopted the special-needs pet at TAILS Humane Society in DeKalb, Illinois, and every day the 10-pound dog, now named Noel, supports the little girl through the hard times.
“I don’t really know anyone else who has diabetes, so we talk about it together,” said Olivia of her beloved Chihuahua.
Olivia cradles Noel like a baby. “I tell Noel that it’s okay to have diabetes. She likes to give me little kisses.”
“We use the same size shots,” Olivia continued. “She’s not scared when she gets shots. I show her the shot first so she knows what it is and then I lift up some skin around her collar and give her the shot. If she squeaks, I just hug her, but most of the time she doesn’t even know it’s happening.”
Olivia, daughter of Lisa and Dean Miller of DeKalb, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when she was six years old. Around that time, Olivia began asking her parents for a Chihuahua. Shortly before Christmas that year, the Millers received TAILS Humane Society’s fall newsletter and read the story of Angel, a neglected Chihuahua who had been left to die.
One summer day, a realtor showing a prospective buyer a country home was shocked to find a little dog apparently abandoned on the property. It was barely alive. The realtor called the Humane Investigation Department at TAILS and a licensed humane investigator rushed to the scene.
The Chihuahua was indeed close to death and couldn’t even raise her head to take the piece of bread offered to her. The humane investigator then called in officers from DeKalb County Animal Control and the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department.
The dog was rushed to Prairie View Animal Hospital where she required round-the-clock care for four weeks. It did not take the veterinarian long to diagnose the Chihuahua’s diabetes. Named Angel by the Prairie View staff, she entered foster care when she left the hospital. A trained, licensed volunteer in TAILS’ network of foster families took over her rehabilitation.
Meanwhile, Angel’s original owner was charged with animal cruelty for failure to provide necessary veterinary care to a companion animal. She was found guilty, sentenced to 18 months probation, and ordered to relinquish the dog and pay restitution for Angel’s treatment over the course of two months, a bill of $1600.
By Halloween, Angel’s blood sugar levels had stabilized with twice-daily insulin injections. She gained weight and quickly recovered her natural playfulness and energy. When she was at last healthy and ready for adoption, everyone at TAILS knew that this adoption would not be a simple matter. A special family would be needed to make the commitment to this pet’s ongoing needs. TAILS decided to feature the story in its fall newsletter in hopes that someone would be touched by the resilience and delightful spirit of this little dog that had been through so much.
When Lisa Miller read the story her first thought was, “I wouldn’t give up on my daughter, so I wouldn’t want someone to give up on her [Angel].”
Feeling that Angel was “meant to be ours,” the Millers read Angel’s story together as a family and then began the adoption process. They took the family’s rat terrier, Ruby, to meet Angel and see if the dogs were compatible. The introduction was a great success and the adoption was completed that day. “When I first saw her,” Olivia said, “I just thought she was the cutest little thing.”
Olivia’s Christmas Angel became Noel and today the Chihuahua lives the good life as a valued member of the Miller family, which also includes Olivia’s brother Noah, age 12, and two cats. The whole Miller menagerie is ruled by Noel, who according to Lisa “is a true Chihuahua with a big bark for such a little dog.”
“We have a fenced-in backyard,” Lisa explained, “and Noel loves to soak in the sun. She and Ruby chase squirrels and bark. Every day they run to greet the postman who gives them each a treat.”
Every time someone opens a kitchen cupboard, Noel comes running, hoping for a treat. Her favorite snack is apple. Lisa said that Noel also likes to steal the cats’ treats, but everyone in the family keeps an eye on Noel’s diet, an important part of her diabetes treatment plan.
Olivia keeps a diagnostician’s eye on Noel. “I can tell if Noel’s blood sugar is high,” she said, “because she drinks a lot of water and goes to the bathroom a lot. When it’s low, she falls over and is tired.”
And Olivia isn’t the only doctor in the house. Her brother Noah has taken such an interest in his sister’s and Noel’s common disease that he wants to become a veterinarian when he grows up.
“Both Noah and Olivia prepare shots for Noel,” said Lisa. “Noel patiently sits and waits for them.”
Olivia adds, “And she’s not scared.”
To Olivia, Noel is more than just a therapy dog. “She’s my cute little baby. I like to dress her up like Little Red Riding Hood and for Halloween we were both princesses.”
“Noel is everything Olivia wished for,” said Lisa. “She’s a big part of our family for being such a little dog. We all love her.”
Noel, the Chihuahua that nearly didn’t live, thrives with the Millers and the Millers are in turn enriched by Noel, proof that one can never predict the impact a single small life may have on another.