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The King Charles Cavalier Spaniel from a puppy mill had a short life, but it sparked a passion for rescue work in her human, who co-founded Rescue Me Ohio.
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Retrievers who dig through earthquake rubble and Shepherds who sniff out explosives — these are the dogs we credit with rescuing others. Ruby Roo was not one of those dogs. A tiny, sick little puppy mill survivor, the King Charles Cavalier Spaniel was very different from your prototypical canine hero. Diminutive Ruby never could have dragged her human to safety, but she was the driving force behind a soul-soothing life change. During her short time on Earth, Ruby rescued her human from a life without purpose, and in doing so has helped countless other companion animals.
Christine Shepard-Desai’s life can be divided into two parts — before Ruby and after Ruby. Before, she was a corporate lawyer whose professional path had taken her far from her original passion for human rights law. After Ruby, Shepard-Desai made a new life for herself as the vice president, co-founder, and legal counsel for Rescue Me Ohio, a state-wide animal advocacy organization.
“There was definitely a void missing,” she explains. “Corporate law is good, but it doesn’t give me the purpose that rescue does.”
Shepard-Desai’s second chance at a life of purpose began with Ruby’s adoption in 2009. Having just moved into an apartment that allowed dogs, she was looking for a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel to share her life with.
“I knew you don’t go to pet shops, but that was as extensive as my knowledge was at that time,” says the lawyer. Eventually, she came across the online adoption profile that would introduce her to Ruby.
“I saw the picture, and it was her cute little sassy face,” she remembers. “It totally blew me away, and I thought ‘I have to have this dog.’”
She contacted Freedom Rescue in Avon Lake, Ohio, and was warned the adorable pup who’d stolen her heart wasn’t in perfect health.
“They told me, ‘well, she’s little, and she’s a little on the sick side.’”
Ruby’s poor health could be explained in two words — puppy mill. The tiny Cavalier and her siblings had been saved from mill owners who had intended to drown the litter because they were not marketable. Shepard-Desi says before adopting Ruby, the only thing she knew about puppy mills was that they were bad. Meeting Ruby taught her why.
“The first few nights I had her, she was pooping blood, and I was very scared,” she remembers, adding that aside from the poop problems, Ruby was a totally precious little puppy.
It turned out poor little Ruby had giardia, an intestinal parasite common in puppy mills. A trip to the vet got her fixed up quick, but soon other health issues began surfacing — ones that couldn’t be so easily treated. Ruby began walking funny, her knee cap would pop out of socket. She also had a heart murmur, something Shepard-Desai now knows is very common in King Charles Cavaliers born into puppy mills. Unfortunately, the heart murmur wasn’t Ruby’s only cardiac issue — a valve in her heart was leaking into her lungs.
Shepard-Desi took Ruby to a cardiologist, but the puppy’s head was as much of a problem as her heart. Ruby’s skull was small — too small for her brain. The condition, common in Cavaliers, is called Syringomyelia, and it becomes extremely painful as it progresses.
“I was told she had it, but that it would develop slow,” Shepard-Desi recalls. “Then she started having seizures. You would be holding her, and she would just scream.”
Despite it all, Ruby’s human says the petite pup never lost her sass. The puppy mill survivor was loved by everyone she met, and was her funny and fun-loving little self right up until the end of her life.
Ruby was only a year and a half old when it all ended. Before her veterinarians could do a full diagnostic to figure out the cause of her seizures, she was rushed to the emergency vet clinic after a brain aneurysm. She couldn’t breath, and her tiny tongue had turned blue. The vet kept her on oxygen for five hours before Shepard-Desi made the heartbreaking decision to let Ruby go.
“All of this was attributable to her being a puppy mill dog and the lax breeding criteria they use,” says Shepard-Desi. “I was angry.”
The lawyer began researching animal advocacy and companion animal law — reigniting the passion she’d lost when she’d left human rights work. Eventually, a friend suggested she talk with another Ohio woman who had lost a rescue pet. Stephanie Gonzalez was mourning the loss of her senior cat, Shabby, and the two women quickly formed a bond — and a plan for Rescue Me Ohio. The organization doesn’t take in animals, but creates a network between groups that do and concentrates on education and advocacy.
“We are a sort of middle man to do the things that shelters and rescues do not have time to do,” Shepard-Desi explains.
Pet food drives, spay and neuter campaigns, and advocacy filled Shepard-Desi’s life with the purpose she’d been missing. She says she’s grateful to Ruby for helping her find herself again.
“If it wasn’t for her, if it wasn’t for the loss, I wouldn’t be doing this.”
Six months after Ruby died, Shepard-Desi adopted another King Charles Cavalier pup from Freedom Rescue.
“Stella was born in foster care,” says Shepard-Desi, who also shares her home with Smitty, another Cavalier from a reputable breeder. Both Stella and Smitty are five years old and neither suffer from the kind of health issues Ruby did. Despite the pain of losing Ruby, Shepard-Desi says she has no regrets about sharing her life with the dog who changed hers.
“I would do it again a million times because she had a great life, even if it was a short one.”
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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