Kamloops rescue dog Ruby remembered after dying from cancer
This is a Facebook photo of Mike Ritcey and his dog Ruby. The pair volunteered with the Kamloops Search and Rescue up until Ruby died this month due to cancer. (Facebook)
A rescue dog with a Kamloops search-and-rescue team has died after a battle with cancer.
Ruby, a two-year-old Yellow Lab who volunteered with Kamloops Search and Rescue, died on May 6 after being diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer last month. Her owner, Mike Ritcey, had noticed a lump on her side and took her the vet to be examined.
"A bad deal for sure," Ritcey said over the phone on Tuesday. "It was devastating, actually. A dog is part of your life."
Search-and-rescue dogs must undergo about two years of training and tests with the RCMP before they are validated to work with SAR groups. Ruby had just been validated and was set to start as a full-fledged SAR dog.
"There are not many validated dogs in the province," he noted. "It's like a kid, you figure they will be a rock star."
The cancer diagnosis was shock, he said, noting it's rarely found in young dogs.
KSAR manager Alan Hobler said the news caught everyone by surprise.
"He was a little puzzled and took some tests, did some research and turned out, she only had, I think, two to three weeks left," he said by phone.
Monday evening, Ritcey's friends and colleagues surprised him with a plaque.
"The dog community has been so supportive," he said, before admitting the moment stirred his emotions. "Definitely a few memories spilled down my cheeks. All good memories."
At the time of Ruby's death, KSAR had been actively searching for fire chief Clayton Cassidy when he disappeared after checking flood water levels in Cache Creek on May 5.
Ritcey spent five days helping with the search — but without Ruby. He accompanied SAR colleague Michelle Liebe and her dog, manning the radio.
"We usually work in teams of two," he said. "I'll be able to help."
Hobler said Ritcey has been volunteering with KSAR for more than three decades.
"He's always had a dog so usually he starts training a dog before he has to retire one," said Hobler, noting Ritcey's other dog Juno is set to retire next month.
"He's really humble about it. He doesn't like to boast but definitely, Mike is one of our most dedicated, if not our most dedicated and definitely our longest volunteer on the team."
"It’s pretty amazing. Those dogs are dedicated to the task. All of us search-and-rescue volunteers — it’s a hobby that we do but for the dogs, it’s their life from the time they’re a puppy," said Hobler. "They’re dedicated to being a SAR dog and their life is different than a house pet would be."
Hobler said Ritcey is now searching for a new puppy or an already trained search dog who might be needing a new owner.
"I'll be without a dog for a year," Ritcey figured.
— with a file from Patrick Johnston