Dogs are Niccalina Santilli’s entire life, literally. As the founder non-profit Tiny N Tall Rescue out of St. Charles, Illinois, all her time is dedicated to finding forever homes for the nearly 3,000 pups that have come into her care since the organization was founded in 2017.
Coordinating the intake, transportation, medical care, fostering, and fundraising for the canines that who are saved by Tiny N Tall has left Niccalina with virtually no time for anything outside of the rescue.
Her social circle has been whittled down to the volunteers, employees, and fosters who are integral to the rescue’s operations. Even Niccalina’s family knows that if they want to see her, they must show up to one of the many events she hosts to drum up donations to care for her canine charges.
Despite the demands of her 24/7 job, which involves managing 150 active foster families and the animals they’re caring for, the sacrifice is worth it to Niccalina.
“I’ve lost out on a lot on a lot of things, I’ve missed out on a lot of opportunities in my personal life, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” she said definitively.
Why Niccalina Santilli launched Tiny N Tall Rescue
Niccalina grew up with small dogs as a child, then became the proud parent of a 160-pound Great Dane, Luigi, as an adult.
Though she had her own giant fur baby to care for at home, Niccalina was deeply concerned for the health and well-being of the more than 3 million dogs that end up in shelters each year.
She began volunteering at a regional dog rescue in 2016, and after learning the ropes and seeing the overwhelming amount of abused and abandoned animals that came into their care, Niccalina decided to dedicate her life to rescuing the homeless animals in her hometown.
She said that it was by looking to the eyes of Luigi, who lived in the lap of luxury as her pet, with handcrafted treats, fresh raw food, and a custom giant dog bed, that Niccalina knew she had to help the less fortunate pooches, who are neglected and harmed by their owners.
Because of Luigi’s size, she understood caring for giant breed dogs was a challenging experience for the average dog rescue, that she came up with the idea of creating one of her own that could take on the challenge of meeting their oversized needs.
However, Niccalina was raised with small dogs, who held a special place in her heart. With 48% of US households reportedly owning a small breed canine, they make up roughly 1.5 million of the dogs who end up in shelters a year.
In 2017, she launched Tiny N Tall Rescue (TNT) to find homes for the little Chihuahuas and Terriers of the Western Suburbs of Chicago, along with the giant Great Danes and Mastiffs who needed shelter in the area.
Tiny N Tall Rescue
Niccalina’s non-profit is a 100% foster-based rescue, that without a shelter of their own, is completely reliant on the 150 active foster families that selflessly care for the up to 125 dogs that are in Tiny N Tall’s care at any given time.
TNT provides foster homes with all the food, treats, toys, supplies, and support they need give their rescue dogs with high quality, happy lives while they wait to find their forever homes.
The rescue has a medical team that treats outstanding issues, tags them with chips registered to the organization, and spays/neuters the pooches, to ensure they’re healthy before adopting them out.
Each dog easily costs TNT $600 to $800 in medical costs alone for generally healthy pups, but they have spent up to $10,000 per pet to treat cases of extreme negligence, abuse, and health defects.
Niccalina said that her biggest concern when launching the rescue was taking in enough donations to care for the dogs, as she tends to be a “yes” person who doesn’t want to leave any pooch behind that needs shelter.
Along with being completely foster-based, TNT is 100% reliant on donations to operate. They raise the money required to support their operation by partnering with brands like apparel company “I’d Rather Be With My Dog,” which donates 10% of all their sales to the rescue, and by holding events and fundraisers, like the Bark In The Park at the Schaumburg Boomer’s baseball stadium.
The Tiny N Tall Rescue volunteers
Behind Niccalina is a dedicated team of volunteers that coordinate all aspects of the rescue’s day to day operations.
The application team conducts in depth background checks and interviews with any incoming volunteers, foster parents, and adopters to ensure the dogs they save will not end up in similarly bad situations.
As the rescue has grown, their intake has expanded to include unfortunate pups slated for euthanasia in high-kill animal shelters. The transport team, which is typically led by Niccallina, travels to neighboring states to collect dozens of dogs who would lose their lives without TNT’s intervention.
The intake process is a well-oiled machine that typically takes place in Niccalina’s front yard, where up to thirty volunteers prep foster go-bags with food, treats, leashes, and beds, while foster parents line the street awaiting the Tiny N Tall van’s arrival.
Once Niccalina and a member of the transport team roll up, the dogs are removed one-by-one, where their checked over by the medical team, who microchip and vaccinate them on the spot.
The dogs are photographed for the social media team, who will create their profiles for the website’s adoption page, and advertise their arrival on Facebook and Instagram.
They are then rapidly whisked away by volunteers, that hand them and their doggy go-bags over to their new foster families, who pull through Niccalina’s “U” shaped driveway with the efficiency of a fast-food drive-through.
The dogs of Tiny N Tall Rescue
The canines taken in by the organization typically spend two to four weeks in foster care, receiving behavioral treatment and medical care, including vaccinations and spaying/neutering, before they can find their forever homes with adopters.
Niccalina huge advocate for getting dogs spayed and neutered, as homeless animals outnumber homeless humans by 5 to 1.
She explained that overpopulation is the leading cause of pet euthanasia in the United States. In one year, a pair of unspayed/unneutered dogs can produce 16 puppies.
Those 16 puppies can go on to create 128 offspring the next year, and a year after that, their number increases to 512. In six years, the original pair of dog’s progenies can be responsible for birthing up to 67,000 dogs.
“One male dog can impregnate ten female dogs, and they can all have ten babies,” Niccalina noted. “It’s just a never-ending cycle.”
Commercial breeders are an entire industry based around that cycle, and one that prioritizes profits over health and safety of the dogs they breed.
“Commercial breeders are terrible, and we get a lot of dogs from them,” Niccalina disclosed.
She explained that the worst rescue operation that TNT had ever participated in was from a commerical breeder in Indiana, who had kept the dogs in a barn without sunlight, proper care, or access to the outside for years.
The smell was so bad in the barn the dogs were housed in, that they had to wear masks, and there was a layer of hay mixed with feces so high that they had to dig the dogs out before they could open the doors.
That day, Tiny N Tall went against their mandate of only taking in little and large dogs to save the lives of eleven German Shepherds, because Niccalina refused to leave them behind in the extreme squalor. All of Shepherds found their forever homes because of Tiny N Tall.
She said that the dogs were put in that position because there’s no real regulation on breeding in the United States.
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“They’re overbreeding these dogs and selling them to literally anybody without doing any kind of research on them,” Niccalina pointed out. “You don’t know if those people are going to breed the dog, or beat the dog, or what they’re going to do with it.”
That’s why TNT vets their adopters so thoroughly, to avoid the those who have bad histories with previous pets. It’s also the reason they microchip the dogs they save with the rescue’s name preregistered as a main contact.
“We take all of our dogs back, we follow them through the entire life of the dog,” Niccalina added. “We’re trying to follow it to make sure our dogs don’t end up on the street and back in shelters.”
Niccalina Santilli is an Everyday Hero
As of publishing, TNT has saved 2,988 dogs and the 3,000 mark is swiftly on the horizon. When asked how she feels about it, Niccalina simply said that it was “awesome.”
“I couldn’t believe it that many when I looked at the actual number,” she said. “Oh my god. That’s a lot of dogs.”
Comparatively to the roughly 670,000 dogs that are euthanized a year due to overpopulation, she acknowledged it was a “little dent,” but noted that TNT makes a difference.
“There’s no way that we will be able to save every single dog, but if Tiny N Tall didn’t exist, those almost 3,000 dogs wouldn’t be alive today,” she remarked. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a huge number, but it still makes a difference.”
Furthermore, she pointed out that it’s not only the rescued pooches that TNT impacts.
“That’s 3,000 families that have been touched by that dog,” she commented. “It’s not only that dog’s life that was saved, we touch people’s lives too.”
TNT doesn’t have any formal celebration planned for the momentous occasion of saving their 3,000th dog, but Niccalina certainly has goals to expand the rescue.
“I would like to get a facility, because that would allow us to take in more dogs and provide them with better care,” she stated.
She doesn’t want to open a shelter, but would like to centrally locate Tiny N Tall’s operations at a facility that would act as a hub for their transports and adoption events.
Currently, as mentioned, transport dog transfers are staged at Niccalina’s home, while all of their supplies, dog crates, and merchandise is stored in separate locations off-site.
Services they provide for the dogs and fosters, like grooming, medical treatment, and behavioral classes currently all take place in other locals.
By opening a Tiny N Tall facility, everything could be held in-house. Niccalina envisions hiring an in-house trainer to work with the dogs while they’re with foster families and run training classes for the adopters and their forever pups.
The facility would “alleviate a lot of issues” by allowing TNT to board dogs in the event of a foster family’s emergency, or if a transport comes in before they have foster families lined up.
She believes having the new pups come into their facility would give them better socialization than boarding them at one of their volunteer veterinarian’s offices, which is their current protocol.
Though expanding the rescue would inevitably create more work, caring and comforting the terrified and abused dogs TNT rescues is her top priority.
Niccalina Santilli’s life has gone to the dogs, and that’s exactly how she likes it.
Tiny N Tall Rescue Resources
DONATE a monetary gift to provide food, shelter, and medical care for the dogs in TNT’s care.
Start a FUNDRAISER on Facebook to help raise funds for TNT through your social network.
PURCHASE desperately needed items for TNT’s foster dogs through their Amazon Wish List.
Buy Tiny N Tall MERCH to help support the rescue with your purchase.