Sue Rogers knew the newborn Chihuahua she took in was special. Born with a cleft palate, Kenzie fought through more than one harrowing health crisis. But it isn’t just her resilience that awes Sue. Kenzie has an amazing ability to sense what other sick or ailing animals need and give them the support to heal and thrive!
Dawn was just breaking when the ringing phone jolted Sue Rogers awake.
“Sue, I could really use your help,” the worried caller said. “We have two newborn Chihuahua puppies. I think they both have a cleft palate — they’re trying to nurse, but they’re not getting anything.”
Sue was used to area animal lovers calling her at all hours in emergency situations.
In 2012, after losing her own beloved Chihuahua, Mia, just shy of her second birthday due to complications from a cleft palate, Sue had founded The Mia Foundation (TheMiaFoundation.com), dedicated to saving animals born with birth defects. Over the years, Sue and her husband, Gary, have helped more than 1,000 animals get the medical care — and love — they need to survive, caring for many of them right in their own Hilton, New York, home.
“Get them to my house right away,” Sue instructed the woman on the phone.
And as she got out of bed to prepare for her new arrivals, Sue marveled at how a pup that was as tiny as Mia — she’d weighed little more than one pound — was still inspiring a difference in so many animals’ lives.
Legacy of love
When newborn pups MacKenzie and MacKayla were dropped off, Sue’s heart instantly went out to them. She knew they had a tough road ahead. A cleft palate made getting nourishment extremely difficult and left them at risk of aspirating. Sue carefully hand-fed each one with a tiny tube. She then settled them into a makeshift incubator, fashioned from a plastic container, keeping them warm with a blanket and heating pad. Sadly, MacKayla didn’t make it through the night, but MacKenzie, “Kenzie” for short, hung on.
Every morning, Sue would say a prayer that Kenzie would still be breathing. Thankfully…amazingly… day after day, she was. Over the next few months, Kenzie continued to fight, even surviving two bouts of pneumonia. When, at almost a year old, she hit 1 pound, Kenzie underwent corrective surgery. Again, she pulled through, and once recovered, she thrived.
“You really are a special girl,” Sue marveled.
But even she was surprised to discover just how special Kenzie was.
One day, Sue was working with a foster puppy that had swimmers’ syndrome — a condition in which the dog is born with its legs splayed out. As the physical therapy session ended, Kenzie, suddenly, ever-so-gently crawled into the puppy’s bed and snuggled up beside him.
Sue could see the love in her eyes as if Kenzie was telling the little guy, “You’re going to be okay. You’re doing great.”
Not long after that, Kenzie tended to a puppy with cleft palate, tenderly cleaning and nuzzling it.
“She has a gift,” Sue told Gary.
Four pounds of joy
As time went on, Kenzie gained an official role as a four-legged nursemaid: providing love and care to the rescue animals Sue and Gary took in, from puppies and kittens to turkeys, squirrels, birds and even a goat.
And along with offering comfort, Kenzie kept them in line. When one of her charges would get too rambunctious, Kenzie placed a firm paw on their chest, letting them know, “Okay, buddy, take it easy,” just like a good mom would.
Sue was so awed and inspired by Kenzie, she began posting pictures of her “on the job” on The Mia Foundation’s Facebook page (The Mia Foundation-Love for Mia). She also began taking her to schools to talk to kids about being accepting of differences. Everyone fell in love with Kenzie. Her acts of love even earned her the 2020 American Humane’s Most Heroic Canine Award.
Sue is thrilled that her sweet girl has been recognized, but she is most proud of the message this now-4-pound pup spreads. “Kenzie, like Mia, proves that it doesn’t matter how big you are. We can all make a difference,” Sue says. “It’s the size of your heart that counts!”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.
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