Mark McDermott

Cathy Rubin, Rover Rescue founder, passes away

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Cathy Rubin and a few of her friends. Photo by David Fairchild

Cathy Rubin, the founder of Rover Rescue and a longtime Redondo Beach resident, passed away last week after losing a two year battle with cancer. She was 54.

“She fought really hard,” said James Mackey, her partner. “But there was nothing that was going to stop this.”

A decade ago, Rubin left behind a successful career in clinical psychology in order to pursue her lifelong passion – rescuing animals in danger of losing their lives. Through Rover Rescue, she helped saved more than 1,300 dogs from being euthanized. The organization also affected the lives of thousands of local residents, as Rubin rescued dogs from animal shelters and found them with new homes among South Bay families.

Friends and colleagues recalled Rubin as somebody with a gift not only for helping animals but also people. Rover Rescue became one of the most effective dog rescue organizations in no small part because of the inspiration she provided to its network of more than 40 volunteers.

“It takes a village to save each animal,” said Eveyln Conley, a physician who also became a dog rescuer under the guidance of Rubin. “It takes an organization like Rover Rescue. She had people like me, down in the shelters, she had vets, she  had people walking the dogs daily, fostering the dogs, bringing them to adoption events….I mean, this a multi-faceted, six or seven wheels in motion kind of thing. Cathy brought together a community of like-minded people that got to be part of doing something good. And she put into the community very deserving dogs and made many families incredibly happy.”

Charlotte Bell, the owner of South Bay Doggie Day Care, said that Rubin was one of those rare people who had the ability to put her good intentions into effective action.

“I think to do this kind of work takes two things: one, it takes someone with a lot of heart, and a lot of people would like to do rescue work and have the compassion…but she was also extremely, extremely intelligent. She was very savvy about people. Not a lot of dogs got returned because of her good judgment.”

Her rescuing career began as a child in Los Angeles.

“I rescued a lot of injured lizards,” she said in an interview in 2006. “And oh my goodness, there was this injured bird when I was 5 years old….Also, my parents were compassionate people. They always helped me nurse whatever animal I had back to health.”

Her friend Kate Oakland recalled a family story regarding one of her first rescues at the age of 5.

“She had a pet squirrel. She was in a park and this baby squirrel had fallen out of a tree and they couldn’t find the mother so she brought the squirrel home with her,” Oakland said. “Her dad sanctioned her raising the squirrel. She just had a way with animals – she just had a real sweet touch. The animals always felt at ease around her.”

Her brother Bob Rubin, who was two years older, recalled that the family home became a menagerie as Cathy befriended more and more animals.

“Over the years, we had all sorts of different animals that we took care of – I mean, we had squirrels, chipmunks, turtles, snakes, birds, cats, dogs,” he said. “So many different things….And they were mainly Cathy’s.”

Rubin said his sister originally wanted to emulate Jane Goodall, the anthropologist and primatologist who went to live among chimpanzees in Africa. She eventually obtained a degree in clinical psychology and had her own private practice offering therapy, as well as specialty in forensic work, evaluating court cases.

But she was inevitably drawn back to the animal world. A turning point occurred in 1994 when she volunteered at an animal shelter after the Northridge earthquake, helping reunite lost pets with their owners. After a few months, the kennel still seemed as crowded as when it had begun, and she began to wonder.

“I asked the kennel supervisor why it was still so crowded, and they explained to me that the shelters in LA are always crowded,” she recalled. “I had this thought that the shelter would be emptied out and that would be it. I found out that back then they were putting to sleep, in L.A. County, about 250 dogs a day.”

Rubin was never a bystander. She became involved with the shelters, and soon made a huge impact. Oakland, who met her as a fellow volunteer in the shelters, said Rubin galvanized people into action. She introduced mobile adoption fairs, taking the animals out in public to find prospective new homes.

“She pulled dogs from the shelters and from there it just mushroomed to a big huge program,” she said. “The city had had never before allowed animals to leave the facility…the first adoption had eight dogs, and all eight dogs were adopted. It was amazing, and she started doing more amazing things for the shelter. She was the first person to start doing open houses. She got women to dress up in big gorilla costumes on Bundy Drive to direct people in…She tried to make the shelter warm – she’d be walking around serving cookies.”

It worked beyond anybody’s wildest dreams. One shelter employee confided to Rubin that records indicated that euthanasia rates at one point had dropped from 85 percent to 13 percent in only six months time.

“She turned to Cathy and said, ‘This is all due to you….It makes me feel so good coming to work knowing we are not going to be killing dogs every day,’” recalled Oakland.

She moved to Redondo Beach in 1991 and in 2001 decided to leave her career behind and launch Rover Rescue.

“As a clinical psychologist, she understood a lot about people, and then there was her love for animals – her vision was to combine the two to find a way to nurse the animals back to health and find them the best homes possible,” her brother said. “She tried to work on this perfect match…She found a beauty in it. I guess, like in psychology you try to understand people, and with her, she wanted to understand dogs and what would make the dogs happy.”

Mackey had been dating Rubin a year when she launched Rover Rescue.

“I started dating a clinical psychologist and ended up with a dog rescuer,” he said. “You know, it didn’t matter to me. We talked for a long time and it was a hard decision for her to make to give up that practice and go into something like this – how do you know if it’s going to work? There was no model to follow, particularly. So she created the model that people should follow.”

The organization was unusual both in the care it took in matching owners and animals – Rubin assessed both, picking animals carefully from shelters and making home visits to prospective owners – as well as the kinds of dogs who were rescued. Rubin was one of the few rescuers who would go into the back rooms of shelters, where the injured dogs deemed “unadoptable” were kept.

“A lot of them have this look of love in their eyes,” she recalled in 2006. I look in their eyes and a lot of times they have this sweetness that is kind of irresistible…And I just think most people don’t have the vision to know how wonderful they are going to look. People start flocking to them once they are groomed.”

In 2006, veterinarian Teresa Benton remarked on Rubin’s uncanny ability to see beyond the broken jaws, scabs, sicknesses, and lethargy dogs sometimes suffer in confinement to see a potentially happy family dog. She would invest hundreds and sometimes thousands in their rehabilitation.

“It’s so hard on these animals,” Benton said. “She really is like the Mother Teresa of dogs, going to the Calcutta of the dog world.”

Conley said that the problem of abandoned dogs has grown in recent years as families going through foreclosures are forced to bring their dogs to shelters.

“We have more adoptable dogs than ever before,” she said. “I’m sure Cathy would love people to know that. The shelters are not just filled with stray dogs – there are amazing dogs that used to be family pets. It’s a tragedy on every level.”

Rover Rescue will continue with Mackey, Rubin’s partner of 11 years, taking the helm. He said the organization will live as a tribute to its founder.

“It’s an amazing legacy,” he said.

Rubin is survived by her parents, Melvin Samuel and Victoria Gladys (Mayo) Rubin, her brother, Robert Alan Rubin, and her beloved dogs – Sparky, Chase and Lacey.

A celebration of Rubin’s life will be held at The Belamar, 3501 Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach, on Jan. 15 from 4 to 7 p.m. Condolences may be directed to Rover Rescue, PO Box 424, Redondo Beach, CA 90277. See www.roverrescue.com for more info. See here for the 2006 profile of Rubin and Rover Rescue. ER

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