Why Kids Need Pets

Rufus & Tundra

Tundra -  Famous Stuffed Animal

Dog Gains Fame As "Stuffed Animal"

Azusa, CA -- It's not often that a dog gains celebrity without starring in a Disney movie, but that seems to be just what has happened to Rufus, a Miniature Schnauzer who now lives in Pleasanton, CA.

The "Road to Success" is never easy and Rufus story is no exception. Rufus has Progressive Retinal Atrophy, a genetic disease that affects the eyesight. PRA causes sight to slowly diminish until only light and dark are discernible and ends in total blindness. He lived with a family in the San Francisco Bay Area until a year ago. There were a number of small children in that family and the confusion, noise and number of toys to bump into made life difficult for Rufus, by then totally blind. The family, feeling that he had no "quality of life" to look forward to, took Rufus to Dr. Scott Echols at Oakley Veterinarian & Bird Hospital in Oakley, CA to be euthanised.

"Rufus had such a sweet personality that my staff and I couldn't bear to put him to sleep," said Dr. Echols. "The little dog was otherwise in good health and I knew he could bring someone a lot of happiness." Dr. Echols called Jean Heath, a miniature schnauzer breed rescue contact for the Bay Area, to see if she could help relocate Rufus.

Jean knew it would take a special situation, but that she could eventually find a good home for Rufus. As a past member of both the American Miniature Schnauzer Club Board of Governors and the Progressive Retinal Atrophy committee, she also knew Rufus' DNA would be of value to the scientist at Cornell University. The AMSC and the American Kennel Club Health Foundation are helping fund research at Cornell to find the mode of transmission of PRA in miniature schnauzers. Jean immediately drove to Oakley to pick up Rufus for the first leg of his new journey.

Jean had Rufus examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist who confirmed the diagnosis of PRA and took DNA samples. She submitted the testing results to the AMSC and notified the breeder of Rufus' sire of the PRA diagnosis. As of this date she has been unable to locate the owner of his dam. Next, Jean had Rufus groomed by Susie Atherton, former AMSC secretary. She then turned her attention to finding Rufus a qualified home.

Missy Denzer was looking for a companion for her Siberian Husky, Tundra. Several attempts at finding Tundra a Husky companion had failed. When contacted by Jean, Missy was skeptical that Rufus and Tundra would get along. She committed to take on the challenge of a non-sighted dog if Tundra agreed. Jean knew not only that Missy was a dedicated pet owner but that a canine companion for Rufus would add a lot to his visually limited environment.

Everyone assumed Tundra would instinctively know Rufus was blind. Instead, although he tolerated Rufus, Tundra was very disturbed when Rufus kept bumping into him. Missy tried taking Rufus along on Tundra's morning run, but Rufus went in other directions, bumped into curbs and tripped them. Finally, in desperation one day she took the two dogs running at the beach where Rufus couldn't bump into anything.

At the last minute, she took a hand full of bells, shaking them so Rufus would follow her. He trotted happily along. When that worked, she tied the bells to Tundra's collar so Rufus could follow Tundra. The two dogs took off running. It was the turning point in the relationship. Rufus began following Tundra everywhere by listening to the bells and no longer bumped into him.

Missy instituted a short training program teaching Rufus "up", "down" and "stop" (well, as much as you can "teach" a schnauzer). The family committed to not moving furniture so Rufus could memorize where things were located. Today he is treated just like any member of the family. He's a well adjusted, friendly dog who's not afraid to try anything. He enjoys his exercise so much it brings a smile to your face. He barks only to warn of strangers or when something truly startles him.

The story doesn't end there. Missy's mother, Barbara Denzer, is the head of marketing for Cardinal Laboratories in Los Angeles. Cardinal is the leading manufacturer of dog shampoos and grooming products for pet stores. In the process of repackaging the original Cardinal brand in honor of their 50th year in business, Barbara created plush animals of different dog and cat breeds on the new labels. She named the new line Gold Medal Pets. Many of them are replicas of her own family's pets. (Rufus, Tundra, Trixie, and Munchkin are a few of the family treasures now available in plush) Each animal has special clothing accessories, distinct personality traits, it's own name and birth date. Picture and a short description of each animal are featured in the booklet type back label on every bottle of pet shampoo.

"The minute the shampoo got into pet stores we started getting calls from people asking how they could buy the stuffed animals on the label," says Denzer. "I searched to find a manufacturer with the quality we wanted and a price point low enough to make them affordable to everyone. The favorite pet by far is Rufus, our little cowboy." says Denzer. "I'm not surprised. The manufacturer did a wonderful job of recreating him. Rufus is as irresistible in plush as he is in real life. The cowboy represents the spirit of the adventures in his life. The stuffed animals have had a major impact on our business. People have started collecting them. We are planning new editions and more products based on the Gold Medal Pets."

Although the tag on the stuffed animal doesn't explain that in real life Rufus is blind, the Denzers are happy to share his story. "No pet should have Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Breeders can learn how to avoid it, " says Missy Denzer, "We are glad to bring some attention to the problem. We have confidence that the Cornell scientists will solve this genetic puzzle."

"Of course, we would have never met Rufus if it hadn't been for PRA, Dr. Echols and Jean Heath," says Missy. "Rufus has brought a lot of joy and laughs into our lives and now we can share him with others through this stuffed animal collector toy."

Handicapped children really relate to Rufus once they find out he's blind. "We try to have Rufus visit kids who are bummed about their handicaps whenever I can," says Missy. "He gives them a new perspective on life. The Rufus stuffed animal can keep them company when they get the blues. He lifts their spirits a little."


April 5
National Ferret Day & “Tag” Day – Check ID Tags or get your pet microchipped! http://www.americanhumane.org
April 12
Earth Daywww.EarthDay.org
April 13
Palm Sunday
April 17
Pet Owner's Independence Day – This holiday may be an April Fool! It’ rumored that we are supposed to send our pets to work while we stay home, or have them do our chores and take care of us! Good Luck with that!
April 18
International Guide Dog Daywww.igdf.org.uk – A salute to guide dogs and the service they provide for visually impaired people is so important we celebrate this dogs around the world on this day!

Read More » »