Meet Ruby: a very good dog with an important job

When Shauna Darcy brought home her beloved staffy Ruby, she had no idea that she had the potential to save her life.

When Shauna Darcy was 17-years-old, she brought home a naughty staffy puppy.

She’d been suffering with anxiety and depression since her early teenage years - the result of bullying at school, which had worsened amid the stress of Year 12 exams.

Shauna soon realised the puppy - Ruby - had a calming effect on her, and she managed to finish school with her help.

Ruby as a puppy. Source: Supplied

But beyond her school years, Shauna’s anxiety took over. She found herself unable to leave her home. 

“I wasn’t leaving the house because I was scared of having episodes.

“I didn't come and see family in Melbourne, I missed Christmases, I missed birthdays because I just couldn't leave the house. I couldn't do it.

It was only with Ruby by her side that Shauna felt comfortable to take on the world. So with that in mind, she looked into more formal training. 

“I didn’t know that an assistance dog was something I could have,” she told The Feed. 

“I knew about guide dogs, I knew about hearing dogs and diabetic alert dogs but I had no idea I was eligible for one.”

“I had Ruby’s temperament tested and when she was approved, she started her training.”

Ruby and Shauna on holiday. Source: Supplied

Now the 21-year-old says Ruby is more than a companion - she’s her ‘lifeline’.

Last year, Shauna was diagnosed with a rare condition called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). 

Her ‘POTS’ is caused by another condition, Vascular Ehlers–Danlos syndrome (EDS). Shauna’s Vascular EDS and POTS cause chronic pain and fatigue.

In addition, her blood vessels don’t pump blood as well as they shoul’. This means she’s also prone to fainting, as a result of changes in her blood pressure. For Shauna, chronic illness only exacerbates the anxiety she’s been dealing with since her teens. 

“Ruby is mainly an alert dog,” she told The Feed. 

“Usually she gives me about 5-10 minute warnings.”

Ruby has been trained to alert Shauna when her heart rate is getting too high, or blood pressure is getting too low.

“She lets me know by pawing at me - or if I don’t listen to her, she gets on top of me like ‘listen to me’ and that way I don’t fall and hurt myself.”

Life with a chronic illness is unpredictable. Shauna says she never knows whether she is going to have a ‘good day’ - or whether it’s going to be tough.

“You can make plans and get up in the morning and be like I can’t go out, I’m too unwell,” she said.

Or you wake up one day and you end up in hospital that afternoon or that night.
“You just don’t know.”

Shauna’s taken to Instagram to both share her life - and remove the stigma around ‘bully breeds’.

Through Ruby’s following on Instagram, Shauna has managed to make connections all over the world, including Melbourne; the city she calls home. 

Maddie Kellett is one of those friends. She decided to connect with Shauna after she got her own assistance dog, Scout.

“I reached out to Shauna because I saw that she had an assistance dog and I was asking her questions about Ruby,” she said.

“We realised we were living about an hour and a half away from each other so one day we were like ‘let’s meet up’.

“We became best friends from there, now we just chat all the time.

Maddie deals with crippling social anxiety. Scout is in training to help her for when she has a panic attack.

“He’ll lay down across my legs or across my chest, and it will help me calm down.”

Shauna and Maddie
Shauna and Maddie with Ruby the staffy Source: Supplied

Shauna also uses Ruby’s social media as a platform to sell assistance dog vests, blankets and backpacks.

Ruby’s social media following has also helped Shauna build one very important thing: a business.

“I faint a lot but also because I have chronic fatigue, chronic pain, it basically means it’s impossible to maintain a job,” she said.

“You go home sick, you call in sick, so I can’t work because of it. Some days I just spend in bed.

She’s been making her own bespoke assistance dog vest, which she now ships worldwide. In that time she’s made over 100 vests. 

“I actually hand sewed the very first vest,” she said.

“It took me all day but I loved it and I ended up getting a sewing machine and making a few vests.

Shauna started the business in February and has now made more than 100 vests.

“Ruby and I were just filling in our days. Now I fill my days with crafting and sewing. It’s keeping me busy.

“I’ve gone from having too much time to ‘there’s not enough time in the day to do what I need to do’.”

And even on Shauna’s worst days, Ruby is always by her side.

“Ruby means the world to me,” she said.

“I have no idea what my life would be like without Ruby. She’s there when I’m unhappy, she doesn’t judge me when I’m unwell.

“She’s just always there.” 

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Published 21 November 2019 at 5:25pm