A Star is Born

September 8, 2011  

Ruby gives new meaning to ‘working dog’

Found in an abandoned home, Ruby achieves celebrity status, which has taken her and her people on a wonderful odyssey. We will continue to follow Ruby’s adventures here each month.

By Ruby the dog and Patrick Bettendorf

To write about my adventures is fun, but to write about myself and how I help others is kind of embarrassing. This I can tell you…I was first trained and tested to become a TDI therapy dog. Then as my Dad’s needs changed, I went back to school and and graduated from Puppy Love Caring Canines School for service dogs. I continue to do both and I know when I am wearing my “cape” I act a bit differently, because I’m working for my Dad.

I’ve added a couple of other things to my resume of jobs too. The local library has children to read twice each month, I like that a lot, because I can relax and get lots of pets, plus listen to some good stories. I’ve picked acting again too, just been cast in a professional theater company’s production of Of Mice and Men. I even get paid for that job! Now here are my Dad’s words on how it all began…

Doggie Social Decorum

From the first moment she entered our house on that Thanksgiving Day 2003, I felt that Ruby had the temperament to be a therapy dog. I had done two years of research on pit bulls and also worked hands-on with a number of them. Plus I had eight years experience as a pet therapy program volunteer. It was a no-brainer, and I wasn’t worried one whittle. Ruby was kind, snuggly, and friendly, but not overwhelmingly so. And she had those manners … a kind of a doggie social decorum. Oh sure, the first four weeks of obedience school seemed more for her entertainment than anything else. But she was young, had a short attention span, and thought the world revolved around her…. Hmmm a lot like me in my youth.
By spring 2005, I felt she was ready to take the Therapy Dogs International (TDI) test. A dog must pass all 14 criteria, or the dog would fail. The TDI test looked for how the dog reacted to petting, brushing, wheelchairs, walkers, strange or unfamiliar movement, loud sudden noises, children, and other dogs. How do they walk on a leash and behave when left alone for a few minutes?

I had every confidence Ruby would pass. Everything went great until one of the last parts of the test. A person with a leashed dog on his left side walked toward Ruby, and I walked in their direction. The idea was to meet, shake hands with the other person, make small talk for a moment, and then go on our merry way. The dogs were not to make contact with each other. Damn! Wouldn’t you know the other canine was a Rottweiler. We have Rotties at home! The sight of the large black bruiser made Ruby very happy. Forgetting herself for a moment, she quickly crossed over to say a friendly, “Hi!” I started to trip and wobble. The test was over.

By November 2005, we were ready to test again. Working with friends, Ruby went through the drill over and over. We had it nailed—except for that saying “Hi” to the other dog monkey business. That part was spotty. Still, we went for the test. Apparently, Ruby knew it was for real. This go round she passed with flying colors. Within two weeks, she was volunteering at two health care residences each week.

Ruby Goes to Work

One of the first residents Ruby befriended was Hank. Hank wasn’t able to talk, his body wracked with terminal cancer. Even though he was in excruciating pain, his eyes said everything we had to know. When Ruby entered the room, he would flash a great smile of a man years younger. His eyes, bright, clear, and shinning, danced all over Ruby as she took up a position alongside him. After a quick slurp of a kiss that had him giggling, she’d snuggle up tight to the kind, old gentleman with those expressive eyes. I’d narrate any interesting stories about Ruby’s day or things planned in the near future. Hank would nod at my ramblings as he slowly, tenderly stroked her head and back. He seemed to be reminiscing of long ago pets. Suddenly his eyes grew dull as they closed; his body shuddered in pain. A couple of minutes later, Hank was back, petting Ruby. He’d frequently glance at me, silently saying, “thank you” for bringing Ruby. The pain returned twice more. He was tiring. It was time for us to go and let him rest. It was a hard day when some months later Ruby and I learned of Hank’s passing, alone in his room.

Another upside of her therapy work was that the adult children of Ruby’s residents saw the wonderful role she played in the lives of their parents. Through the years, some of these adult children, wanting to do something positive for themselves and others, went on to train therapy dogs of their very own.

Ruby not only continues to visit seniors on a regular schedule, but also calls on schools to talk about dog safety, the different breeds of dogs, and the many ways dogs help people.

Along the way, she has taken a bump or two. During a pet therapy session at a memory care unit, a staffer asked if Ruby could see Mrs. Smith. “Oh her kids say she’s always been a dog person. She just loves them!” As Ruby said, “Hi,” Ruby was socked in the face. The problem was that Mrs. Smith was a resident there because she was not the same Mrs. Smith anymore. It is a difficult reality for many grown children to deal with their moms or dads who are in effect gone. Ruby stepped back, looking at me as if to say, “What was that, Dad? What do I do?” Snapping out of my shock, I whisked Ruby out of harm’s way. The staff was mortified. While I wasn’t happy about Ruby getting punched by poor Mrs. Smith, I couldn’t be angry with her. If Mrs. Smith had been aware of what she had done, she would have been mortified as well.

Ruby was all right and, yes, we went back. Ruby wouldn’t have it any other way.

To learn more about Ruby’s incredible story visit her website.

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One Response to “A Star is Born”
  1. EllieMiller says:

    Keep up the great work! I belong to an organization in Louisiana where you can visit our web site :www.wagslouisiana.org Recently a member who had passed her CGC test was refused the right to take the test for TDI based on the fact that her dog was a Service Dog. Many dogs that within our group are Service Dogs for their disabilities as well as Therapy Dogs that have visited local hospitals and libraries. Many people don’t realize that Service Dogs can give so much to their handlers , but have so much more to share. Since there is no written rule in the testing requirements of TDI against Service Dogs being tested as well, I had no idea where she came up with this rule. I’m also a CGC evaluator for AKC and my own Service Dog continues to be a Therapy dog today. I had been searching the web for any evidence that there are Service dogs who are Therapy dogs as well. I’ve contacted TDI and the evaluator who refused an excellent Service and Therapy dog for testing. She has not replied back.The TDI is similar to CGC testing… only the leave it command seems to be added. Many of our dogs encounter or have to accomplish this many times a day. Please contact me with more info on your wonderful Service/ Therapy Dog.

    at: Indigeaux@cox.net


    Ellie & Indigeaux