Five years ago, as Dunwoody native David Ragsdale’s parents were nearing their 50th wedding anniversary, Ragsdale’s father thought he had it made. He had done everything to ensure that he and his wife would enjoy their later years together.
Then cancer struck his wife, and all of his plans crumbled. By 2009, after several surgeries, she was a quadriplegic who could no longer speak. She was hospitalized from November 2009 till July 2010, at which time the doctors could do no more for her and sent her home.
David Ragsdale became his mother’s main caregiver. His father, who had his own health problems, could only watch as the love of his life slipped away. Father and son, who had never been comfortable expressing emotions, had no words to bridge the chasm of grief between them.
Then a scrappy little dog that nobody wanted entered their lives and brought them together in a way neither had ever thought possible.
Rudy, a black miniature Schnauzer, was himself collateral damage of cancer. At 4years old, he had been living happily with a father and his teenage son when the father died of cancer. The aunt who took the boy in did not want Rudy. He was passed from relatives to friends until someone contacted David Ragsdale and said Rudy’s next stop would be an animal shelter.
Ragsdale, who had grown up with pets of all kinds, knew a shelter would probably be Rudy’s last stop because the chances of adoption were slim for a black adult dog. Missing his own cocker spaniel who had passed away a few years before, he said yes. In October 2009, Rudy entered his life.
“That little fella,” said Ragsdale, “hit the ground running.”
As he and his father negotiated their emotional rollercoaster, Rudy, with his cheerful personality, became their bond.
“My father was having to recognize that this was something he couldn’t fix,” said Ragsdale. “When we didn’t have a word to say to each other, we had Rudy.”
Rudy gave Ragsdale’s father something to look forward to everyday. Recovering from two knee replacements, he began taking Rudy for morning walks.
“Rudy made my father see the world again,” said Ragsdale.
He also served as head greeter for all the medical personnel and various other caregivers who came through the house. He gradually became the ex-officio leader of the pack.
“No human being could have done what Rudy did for us,” said Ragsdale.
As time passed, with Ragsdale caring for his immobilized mother’s needs and Rudy caring for his and his father’s, Ragsdale pondered the value that “one little soul” could have and how “that little soul could have been destroyed simply because he couldn’t speak.”
He also pondered his own life. After his mother’s passing in May, he decided not to return to his high-pressure career in marketing and vowed to do something with a greater purpose.
A friend of his, Angela Berna, another animal lover, had reached a similar crossroads in her own life. The two of them decided to start a business that would help creatures without a voice, both the lucky ones and the ones not so lucky.
The result was American Mutt “in-home pet caring and concierge services.” With the help of other pet lovers they call Mobile Mutts, they offer a range of in-home services including walks, visits, medicating and transporting to and from appointments with vets and groomers. During a 30-minute visit, they also water plants, take in the mail, meet repairman and even shop for pet food.
All Mobile Mutts pass extensive background checks as well as an “It’s My Mutt Test” to prove they’re the kind of person Ragsdale and Berna would trust with their own pets.
What sets American Mutt apart from other pet-sitting services is that Ragsdale and Berna donate 10 percent of their revenue to Furkids, Georgia’s largest no-kill animal shelter, formed recently by a merger of Small Dog Rescue and the former Furkids cat rescue.
“In some way, American Mutt is repayment to a good friend,” said Ragsdale, “but I will never be able to repay that scrappy little dog for all the gifts he has bestowed upon me.”