Meesh Davignon has guinea pigs, chickens, dogs and a cat. When she heard about a disabled chicken two years ago who needed a family, she was all in.
The chicken's owner was moving and was trying to place the chicken in a loving home.
"She had a little Malaysian Serama chicken that had lost his toes to scaly leg mites," said Davignon, 30, referring to the microscopic arachnids that can live beneath the scales of a chicken's lower legs and feet and cause serious damage.
"I thought he was really cute - he weighed less than a pound, and his breed is the smallest chicken in the world."
Because the wee bantam was missing most of his toes and wobbled around on the nubs of his feet, Davignon decided to name him Nubz. She took the 7-inch-tall bird home to Escondido, Calif., where she works as a dog trainer, and introduced him to the other 12 chickens in her flock.
"They did not accept him immediately - it definitely took him time to become part of their flock," she said. "He was kept in an enclosure inside their area for a while so they could all get used to each other safely."
At nighttime, Davignon brought Nubz indoors to sleep in a carrier next to her bed. His toe loss meant he was unable to roost on a bar like the other chickens.
While the new member of her flock was getting used to his surroundings, she decided to treat his feet. Although Nubz was able to walk around on grass, Davignon noticed he had difficulty walking on dirt and gravel.
"He has very thin skin because of the mite damage, so he hobbled around and fell a lot," she said.
Davignon said her first task was to get rid of any remaining mites.
"You can suffocate them in Vaseline, then tightly wrap the chicken's feet," she said. "But I had to keep rewrapping cotton around Nubz because everything got so dirty. I was changing his wraps three times a day."
Davignon said that a few days after bringing Nubz home, she remembered that her Chihuahua, Rex, had a tiny pair of dog slippers decorated with reindeer. He had never worn them.
She carefully tucked Nubz's feet inside the slippers, set him down and held out a mealworm - his favorite treat - to entice him to walk to her. It worked.
"As he got more comfortable wearing his little shoes, I'd leave them on longer each time," she said. "Pretty soon, he was getting around a lot better than he did without them because they were great little mobility devices. I'd let him wear them to walk on wood chips and anything else that was rough on his feet."
Davignon said she noticed right away that Nubz moved faster when he wore the slippers, and he seemed to like them.
"He can walk without them, but he wasn't hobbling around as much when he wore them," she said.
He became part of the family, and she started carrying Nubz around in a backpack. Sometimes, she'd tuck him inside the pack and take him on errands to the store.
Nubz likes his space from the other animals, and he ruffles his feathers and warns her cat, guinea pigs and five dogs to keep their distance if he feels they're invading his turf, she said.
Rules the roost
"At home, he rules the roost, even though he's small," she said.
In January, Davignon decided to celebrate her first anniversary with Nubz by giving him a TikTok page and posting a video she'd taken of him learning to walk in his reindeer slippers.
People loved it, and some said they wanted to add to Nubz's shoe wardrobe and give him more variety. Davignon said she happily accepted their offers. She started receiving packages in the mail, and soon, she had a collection of dozens of pairs of tiny boots and shoes.
She now rotates Nubz's footwear, choosing among fleecy booties, tennis shoes, blue suede shoes, beach sandals, dinosaur claw boots and other kicks in a rainbow of hues.
For the next several weeks, though, Nubz is mostly going barefoot while he recovers. Davignon woke up one morning this past summer and saw that Nubz's head was tilted to one side. It turns out he had two degenerative disks in his neck.
"It was like his head had fallen over and he couldn't control moving it," she said.
She took him to the vet, where he received X-rays and stayed for several days. On the vet's recommendation, she now gets Nubz physical therapy and acupuncture.
She said Nubz's social media fans pitched in and sent her money to cover part of his vet bills.
"They've been a great blessing - it's surreal to have so many people love my tiny little chicken," she said.
Nubz now eats a health shake of herbs and grains twice a day, and he uses a mini wheelchair Davignon built to help with his balance issues.
"He should be back to his usual self in a couple of weeks," she said.
After she adopted Nubz, Davignon learned that he was a gynandromorphic chicken with both male and female sex organs, but she has always used the pronoun he for Nubz, she said.
Nubz is about 3 years old, Davignon said, adding that Serama chickens typically have a life span of seven to 10 years.
She regularly posts videos of Nubz on TikTok, delighting his fans, especially when he has a new pair of shoes to show off. The chicken and his fashionable strutting attire were featured on NBC San Diego.
"Probably his favorite pair is his dark blue shoes that look like Ugg boots," Davignon said. "He's pretty fast in those and seems to really enjoy wearing them."
She keeps her chicken's miniature footwear in a dresser drawer at home and recently counted 64 pairs - mostly dog and baby shoes, including several duplicates, sent by social media fans.
"I haven't counted his shoes in months and thought it was more like 30," she said. "I haven't had to buy him a single pair because people keep sending them."
Nubz's fans can't get enough of him.
"Chickens with silly lil boots on is something I never thought I needed," one person commented on TikTok.
Davignon said she knows the feeling.
"He's a sassy little chicken and he needs to be the boss," she said. "But he's also sweet, cuddly and extremely loving, and he likes me to snuggle with him. I adore him."