Foster Failure Ruby Saves Her Family’s Home

The Pit Bull inspired two books, which helped her family keep their home during hard financial times.

The rescue kept calling, and Patrick and Lynn Bettendorf kept saying no. They just could not bring home another dog, even temporarily. They already had five, and were expecting guests for the Thanksgiving weekend. They didn’t want to cram an extra foster dog into their 1,000-square-foot home during a busy holiday. But when the phone calls kept coming, the couple relented, agreeing to watch a young Pit Bull named Ruby for just a few days. It was the first chapter in a story that would see this once unloved pup save the home she almost didn’t get to see.

The husband and wife knew Ruby before those persistent phone calls leading up to Thanksgiving 2003. They walked her twice a week at the kennel Minnesota’s St. Francis of Assisi Rescue boarded her at after she was rescued from an abandoned house at 6 months old.

“Ruby was in pretty tough shape when she was found. She was starving to death, her hair was falling out, she was skin over bone,” Patrick explains.

The young dog spent three weeks in an animal hospital before eventually moving to the boarding facility where the rescue got a discounted rate. But as Thanksgiving approached, the facility began to book up with paying customers, and Ruby needed to go.

That’s how she found herself at the Bettendorf’s house on Thanksgiving Day, watching the guests tuck into turkey dinner. While the other dogs (four Rottweilers: Katie, Carla, Hilde and Venus; and a Pit Bull named Tiger) relaxed upstairs, Ruby did her best to impress the humans. By the end of Thanksgiving evening, Ruby had plenty to be thankful for: a forever home and a new furry family.

“She rose to be alpha among all my dogs not by tooth and fang, but by outwitting, outsmarting and outplaying — sort of like Survivor,” Patrick jokes.

Two years after her adoption, Ruby passed the Therapy Dogs International test. She started volunteering at healthcare facilities and accompanying Patrick to the radio station where he hosted a talk show. In 2006, Ruby became an actress, playing a family dog in a community theatre production of Cheaper By The Dozen. According to Patrick, the children in the cast immediately fell in love with Ruby, and although some adults involved were a little wary of Pit Bulls, Ruby quickly won them over too.

Ruby’s experience with kids came in handy the next year when Patrick and Lynn added a new human to their family, but again, breed bias was a factor.

“When people heard that we were adopting a little girl from China — she was 2 years old — my God, did we get the hate,” Patrick explains. “People predicted this blood bath, but now my daughter is 10, going on 11, and she is one heck of a little dog trainer.”

sadie and ruby
Ruby and Sadie enjoying some sun. (Photo courtesy

Dog lovers around the country got to see the love between Patrick’s daughter, Sadie, and Ruby when the pair won second place in a photo contest and appeared on boxes of a national dog treat brand.

After witnessing this amazing dog accomplish so much, Patrick decided to write it all down in a memoir, Ruby’s Tale. Patrick’s new career as an author was beginning as another came to an end.

“My wife had been laid off from her job when her job went overseas, and I’d been laid off at the radio station. Things were getting pretty tough, and foreclosure started on the house,” says Patrick, who sold enough books at bookstores signings, book clubs, and other events to keep the bank at bay (an episode he details in his second book, Ruby’s Road).

“In the knick of time — like it was scripted — I was able to get a check to make up the payments in arrears on the house,” he says.

Ruby isn't slowing down yet thanks to her new wheels. (Photo courtesy
Ruby isn’t slowing down yet thanks to her new wheels. (Photo courtesy

Ruby’s book saved her family’s home, and she was saved again after a successful cancer surgery extended her life in 2009. These days, Ruby has something new to be thankful for: After Cushing’s Disease (an adrenal condition) robbed her ability to walk, donated a wheelchair to the hero dog, who uses her new wheels to chase chipmunks. Patrick says he knows Ruby will pass away in the next year or two, but in the meantime, he is just thankful for every moment he has with the dog he didn’t know he needed.

Top: Ruby was a quick foster failure. (Photo courtesy

Heather Marcoux

Heather is a wife, new mom, and former TV journalist in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. You can follow Heather on Twitter and Google+.


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