The breeder didn’t know what to do. While the rest of the pups in her Pit Bull’s litter nursed and filled their tiny bellies, the one born with with a severe cleft lip and palate starved, unable to latch on. Recognizing that this puppy, Ruby, needed help, the breeder turned to the internet and found Jenn Clayton, a volunteer with the Utah Animal Advocacy Foundation and the woman who would save Ruby’s life.
“I got an email in the middle of the night the night Ruby was born,” Clayton says, remembering how the digital photograph of a tiny puppy filled her screen.
“I work full time, so I really didn’t feel like I was in a position to offer to take the puppy personally,” she explains. “I started out by giving the best advice I could and recommending she get the puppy immediately to a veterinarian.”
According to Clayton, the breeder did as she suggested, taking the puppy to a vet and getting instructions on how to feed her. Unfortunately, the breeder’s efforts weren’t enough to keep Ruby healthy, and when the puppy was 5 days old Clayton received a panicked call. Little Ruby was dying, and the breeder just didn’t know what else to do.
“I told her just to take her straight to our veterinary clinic and I would figure it out,” says Clayton, who then took custody of Ruby from the breeder.
At 5 days old, Ruby weighted only 10 ounces, less than she had weighed at birth. She had aspirated fluid into her lungs while trying to eat and developed pneumonia. The pup looked bad, and her future looked worse.
“We actually had four different vets give us an opinion, and four of them told us to euthanize. The other one — she was my own personal vet — basically said she would support me in whatever I wanted to do,” Clayton remembers.
Cradling the sick puppy in her hands, she was feeling the weight of this tough decision when suddenly, Ruby piped up with her opinion.
“She kind of started to perk up and started trying to suck on my finger. That was all the convincing I needed. She wasn’t quite done yet.”
For the next four months Ruby needed to be tube fed around the clock. Clayton adjusted her schedule around the pup’s needs and made plans to fly across the country to get Ruby surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary school. Despite all they’d been through together, Clayton didn’t yet feel like she would be committing to this dog long term.
“The plan all along was to find her another home. I didn’t feel like I was in a position to adopt a puppy at that point in my life,” Clayton says, adding that her feelings began to change after Ruby’s surgery.
“After we got back from Philadelphia, that bond had cemented itself pretty well, and I just couldn’t do it — so I adopted her a couple months later.”
Ruby had found her forever home with the person who understood her special needs best, and soon she would also find a new purpose thanks to Facebook. Clayton and the folks at Utah Animal Advocacy Foundation started a page for Ruby months earlier while fundraising for her expensive cleft palate surgery. When the surgery was complete, Ruby’s page lived on, eventually attracting over 66,000 followers.
“We had absolutely no idea it would take off the way it did, so that’s kind of been a life changing thing within itself,” says Clayton, who is frequently contacted by parents of children with cleft lips and palates.
“Our hope is that at some point when she matures a little bit that she’ll be able to do some therapy work, perhaps with children who have craniofacial abnormalities. In the meantime we’re doing a lot of that work virtually, via her Facebook page.”
Ruby’s has made a big impact offline too. Clayton has fostered seven more cleft palate puppies since adopting Ruby. Each of those dogs received surgery thanks to fundraising efforts on Ruby’s Facebook page, and according to Clayton, now 2-year-old Ruby is very loving toward the next generation of cleft palate rescue pups.
“She just holds absolutely, perfectly still, and lets them crawl on her. She loves, loves the babies, so it’s been fun to see her interact with the fosters — she’s a good little ambassador.”