Niccalina Santilli dedicates her entire life to dogs. As the founder of the non-profit Tiny N Tall Rescue in St. Charles, Illinois, she tirelessly works to find forever homes for the nearly 3,000 pups that have been under her care since 2017.
From coordinating intake and transportation to providing medical care, fostering, and fundraising, Niccalina’s commitment leaves her with little time for anything beyond the rescue. Her social circle now revolves around the dedicated volunteers, employees, and fosters who play vital roles in the rescue’s operations.
Even Niccalina’s family understands that if they wish to see her, they must attend the numerous events she hosts, aimed at generating donations for the well-being of the dogs in her care. Managing 150 active foster families and the animals they nurture, Niccalina’s 24/7 job demands immense dedication.
Despite the sacrifices she has made, missing out on personal opportunities and experiences, Niccalina believes it is all worthwhile. She firmly states, “I may have given up a lot, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Why Everyday Hero Niccalina Santilli created Tiny N Tall Rescue
Niccalina’s upbringing surrounded her with small dogs, and as an adult, she proudly embraced the company of a 160-pound Great Dane named Luigi.
However, her compassion extended far beyond her own beloved fur baby. Niccalina’s deep concern for the staggering number of dogs that end up in shelters – over 3 million per year – stirred her to take action.
In 2016, she began volunteering at a regional dog rescue, immersing herself in the ins and outs of animal welfare. Witnessing the heart-wrenching mistreatment and abandonment suffered by countless animals, Niccalina made a life-altering decision – to dedicate herself to rescuing homeless animals in her hometown.
While Luigi lived a life of luxury with handcrafted treats, fresh meals, and a custom-made giant dog bed, Niccalina couldn’t ignore the contrast faced by less fortunate pooches. Neglected and harmed by their owners, these dogs were in desperate need of help. Recognizing that caring for giant breed dogs posed unique challenges, Niccalina conceived the idea of establishing a rescue organization that specialized in meeting their oversized needs.
However, Niccalina’s upbringing with small dogs held a special place in her heart. With approximately 48% of US households owning small breed canines, it was crucial to address their plight too. These pint-sized Chihuahuas and Terriers contributed to the 1.5 million dogs landing in shelters each year.
Thus, in 2017, Tiny N Tall Rescue (TNT) was born. This organization aimed to find loving homes not only for the little Chihuahuas and Terriers of the Western Suburbs of Chicago but also for the giant Great Danes and Mastiffs seeking shelter in the area.
Tiny N Tall Rescue’s Mission
Niccalina’s non-profit organization operates as a 100% foster-based rescue. Without a shelter of its own, TNT heavily relies on approximately 150 selfless foster families who provide dedicated care to up to 125 dogs in their custody at any given time.
TNT is committed to providing foster homes with comprehensive support. This includes supplying all necessary food, treats, toys, and supplies to ensure that rescue dogs receive the highest quality care while they await their forever homes.
To guarantee the health of the dogs, TNT’s medical team diligently addresses outstanding medical issues. They also microchip the dogs with chips registered to the rescue and ensure that each one is spayed or neutered before being adopted out.
The cost of medical care for each dog at TNT ranges from $600 to $800, not accounting for the expenses incurred to treat extreme cases of negligence, abuse, or health defects, which can escalate up to $10,000 per pet.
Niccalina expressed her primary concern when launching the rescue—securing sufficient donations to provide for the dogs. Her compassionate nature drives her desire to never leave any pooch behind without shelter and care.
TNT operates solely on foster homes and relies entirely on donations to sustain its operations. To generate the necessary funding, TNT has formed partnerships with brands such as the apparel company “I’d Rather Be With My Dog,.” This collaboration sees 10% of the company’s sales donated to the rescue. Additionally, TNT hosts various events and fundraisers, including the Bark In The Park at the Schaumburg Boomer’s baseball stadium.
The Tiny N Tall Rescue volunteers are everyday heroes
Behind Niccalina exists a team of dedicated volunteers who oversee all of the rescue’s day-to-day operations. The application team conducts thorough background checks and interviews with potential volunteers, foster parents, and adopters to ensure the dogs they rescue do not end up in detrimental situations.
As the rescue has expanded, their intake has broadened to include unfortunate pups that face euthanasia in high-kill animal shelters. The transport team, usually led by Niccallina, travels to neighboring states to collect dozens of dogs who would otherwise lose their lives without TNT’s intervention.
The intake process runs smoothly in Niccalina’s front yard, where up to thirty volunteers prepare foster go-bags containing food, treats, leashes, and beds. Meanwhile, foster parents line the street, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Tiny N Tall van.
Upon Niccalina and a transport team member’s arrival, the dogs are carefully removed one by one and thoroughly examined by the medical team. They are promptly microchipped and vaccinated on the spot.
The social media team then photographs the dogs and creates their profiles for the rescue’s adoption page on the website. Their arrival is also advertised on Facebook and Instagram.
The dogs are swiftly transferred to their new foster families by volunteers who hand them their personalized doggy go-bags. The entire process resembles the efficiency of a fast-food drive-through, as foster families pull through Niccalina’s “U” shaped driveway.
The pooches 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.
“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 now, TNT has successfully saved 2,988 dogs, and they are rapidly approaching the significant milestone of 3,000. When asked about this achievement, Niccalina expressed her excitement, simply stating, “It’s awesome.”
Reflecting on the actual number, she added, “I couldn’t believe that there were so many. Oh my god, that’s a lot of dogs.” Although she acknowledged that it may only be a “little dent” compared to the approximately 670,000 dogs euthanized annually due to overpopulation, Niccalina emphasized the difference that TNT makes.
While recognizing that they won’t be able to save every single dog, she highlighted the fact that without Tiny N Tall’s existence, those nearly 3,000 dogs would not be alive today. In the grand scheme of things, Niccalina acknowledged that it’s not a huge number, but it still makes a significant impact.
Furthermore, she pointed out that the influence of TNT extends beyond the rescued pooches. “That’s 3,000 families that have been touched by that dog. It’s not only that dog’s life that was saved; we touch people’s lives too,” Niccalina explained.
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Although no formal celebration is planned for the momentous occasion of saving their 3,000th dog, Niccalina has ambitions to expand the rescue. She expressed her desire to acquire a facility that would allow them to take in more dogs and provide better care for them.
Niccalina clarified that she doesn’t want to open a shelter but intends to centrally locate Tiny N Tall’s operations in a facility acting as a hub for their transports and adoption events. Currently, dog transfers are staged at Niccalina’s home, with supplies, crates, and merchandise stored in separate off-site locations.
Services like grooming, medical treatment, and behavioral classes for the dogs and fosters currently take place elsewhere. By opening a Tiny N Tall facility, all these services could be held in-house. Niccalina envisions hiring an in-house trainer to work with the dogs while they are with foster families and to conduct training classes for adopters and their forever pups.
The facility would also alleviate several issues by allowing TNT to board dogs in case of emergency situations with foster families or if a transport arrives before foster families are lined up. Niccalina believes that having the new pups come into their facility would provide them with better socialization compared to boarding them at one of their volunteer veterinarian’s offices, which is their current protocol.
Niccalina Santilli’s life has gone to the dogs and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
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.