California Riding Magazine • May, 2008

Riders at HITS Thermal
Lend a Helping Hand
Generous donations help save
the life of one lucky Chiweenie.

by Rebecca Sparenberg

It was like any other afternoon at HITS Thermal for Natalie Rae, except as she was driving back to her condo she noticed a little dog dodging traffic on Highway 111. Natalie pulled over and tried to coax the small Chiweenie (a Chihuahua/Dachshund cross) to her, but she was having none of it. Finally, the worse happened, not one but two cars hit her.

No one seemed to care that the small dog had been hit, drivers honked and yelled at Natalie as she stooped to scoop up the bleeding Chiweenie. She got in her car and called Hap Hansen’s long-time groom and assistant, Lisa Baldassari. Lisa told her to bring the dog back to HITS and they could take her to the vet clinic on the show grounds.

It was the beginning of a very long night for the two of them. The show vet generously offered to x-ray the injury for free. The Chiweenie was so small that her entire body fit on one x-ray plate. The vet confirmed that the little dog’s leg had been broken in two places and it would have to be amputated. Natalie says “the dog was so sweet throughout the entire procedure that it broke my heart.”

The show vet couldn’t perform the amputation so they drove her to a small animal hospital in town. Imagine their surprise when the local vet told them the surgery alone would cost $5,000.  

“I did not have the money,” explained Natalie. “I decided to take the dog to my vet in Orange County in hopes that it would be less expensive. They bandaged the dog for me and charged me $650. I again could not believe it and did not have the money.”

But as it turns out this little Chiweenie must have a guardian angel. A man waiting with his own dog at the clinic, overheard the entire story, pulled out a credit card and paid the entire bill. The clinic wouldn’t give Lisa or Natalie his name, but later in the week the pair left a thank you card for him at the clinic.

That evening Natalie and her boyfriend drove the little dog all the way to her vet, Yorba Regional Animal Hospital, in Orange County. The hospital offered to do the surgery immediately for half off. But it was still a huge bill—so the ladies went on a Chiweenie fund raising mission.

The women in the show office helped Lisa make up flyers that said, ‘Save the Chiweenie!’ When people asked them about the flyer, they would explain the little dog’s story. Lisa was overwhelmed by the response, “I walked up to anyone and everybody, and everyone reached into their pocket and they pulled out money. Some gave me $1, others $10, a few even gave me one hundred dollar bills. Little kids were handing me their change. I had one person stop and write me a check for $250. I was amazed with how generous everyone was and how everyone pulled together to come to the little Chiweenie’s rescue. In a matter of days they raised the entire amount, all through the generosity of the horse show community.”

After only three days of recovery, the Chiweenie, now affectionately know as Betsy, returned with them to Thermal. A few days later, Lisa and Natalie were in Outdoor Outfitters with Betsy when a women approached them and asked about the three legged dog. She started to pet Betsy, and soon after the Chiweenie took up residence in her lap and went right off to sleep.

“You could see this dog just fell in love with her,” explained Lisa. “She was a little skittish of people, for obvious reasons, but not with this woman. The woman explained that she was currently on disability and the two of them could recover together. It was a perfect home for the Chiweenie.” Together the two of them are now doing just fine.