‘A real bright spot’: Fundraising effort for dog’s surgery inspires car dealership owners to ‘do something more’ | TheUnion.com

‘A real bright spot’: Fundraising effort for dog’s surgery inspires car dealership owners to ‘do something more’

Ralphie sits calmly next to his human counterpart Sandie Smith during a donation and adoption event held for Ralphie Friday at Gold Country Subaru in Auburn.
Photo: Elias Funez

A call for help from the community and the story of an injured dog named Ralphie inspired dozens of donations — including a sizable sum from one business looking out for the “underdog.”

Cheryl Wicks, co-founder of animal nonprofit Sammie’s Friends, first heard about Ralphie after the 3-year-old shih tzu underwent surgery late last month for a fall which had paralyzed him, and his owner, Sandie Smith, reached out to the organization for help.

Wanting to help raise what she could, Wicks on Oct. 1 shared a Facebook post about Ralphie on the Sammie’s Friends page. In it, she described how Ralphie had become so beloved as a support animal for Smith’s young granddaughter, and said that Smith had used “every form of credit she could” to pay the $13,000 bill for his back surgery.

Susan Taylor was one of the people to come across Ralphie’s story on the day it was posted, and said she saw it as a sign.

A team of volunteers from Sammie’s Friends, and crew from Gold Country Subaru in Auburn, pose with Ralphie, a dog for whom $13,000 was raised for his back surgery.
Photo: Elias Funez

Taylor and her husband, Scott Taylor, are owners of the Auburn car dealership Gold Rush Subaru, and on that same day had received a packet in the mail from Subaru of America ringing in its month-long “Subaru Loves Pets“ initiative. This year’s theme is “The Underdogs.”

Over 70 people made donations through the fundraiser attached to the Sammie’s Friends Facebook post, totaling over $3,000.

Then, Gold Rush Subaru donated $10,000 to Sammie’s Friends, to be used paying off the remaining cost of Ralphie’s surgery.

“A lot of people did a lot of nice things for this to happen,” said Wicks.


On Ralphie’s personality, Smith said, “He is amazing.”

She said that, even as he is in “cage rest” and has limited mobility during his recovery, Ralphie continues to greet his family happily, from playing with a toy to wagging his tail and showing emotion through his eyes.

Smith said that her daughter was killed two and a half years ago, and that her granddaughter now lives with her permanently. The young girl has diabetes, and has a very hard time with the needles involved in insulin treatment, said Smith, explaining that Ralphie sits on the girl’s lap and comforts her during these times.

“He’s the best dog we’ve ever had,” said Smith.

Ralphie came into Smith’s life when his original owners, who had to evacuate from the Camp Fire in 2018, moved to Grass Valley and sought out new homes for their four shih tzus — Ralphie, a half-sibling, and his parents.

Of the four dogs, Ralphie was the most playful and active, according to one of his original owners, Ryan Wood. “He is the sweetest dog,” he said.

He recounted the day in 2018 when he got back home “just in time” to evacuate, when he and his wife packed what they could in 15 minutes and drove away with Ralphie and the other three dogs. Wood said that, while searching for the dogs’ next homes, it was important to them to find people they knew would take care of the dogs both physically and emotionally.

The couple knew that Smith would love Ralphie, and while it was a very difficult decision to re-home him, it was nice to know he would go to a friend, said Wood. They have kept in touch, and Smith said Wednesday that Wood had recently donated the cost of a wheelchair for Ralphie, after wheelchair use was suggested at a post-surgery checkup.

“I wanted to make sure that he could have his normal little life and be as active as possible,” said Wood.


An adoption event with cats and dogs from Sammie’s Friends coincided with Friday’s celebration for Ralphie.
Photo: Elias Funez

Taylor said that October is “Subaru Loves Pets” month, a nationwide effort during which individual dealerships donate to a charity local to them within the month’s theme.

Gold Rush Subaru has chosen Sammie’s Friends in past years, and partnered with the nonprofit again this month, setting out to donate $100 for each pet adopted from its shelter through Sunday.

When Taylor saw Ralphie’s story, she said she saw him as the “underdog” represented in the this year’s pet-adoption initiative and thought, “This is the perfect opportunity for us to do something more.”

At first, said Taylor, she reached out to Sammie’s Friends and suggested they collaborate on a pet adoption day with the aim of bringing in donations. After further consideration on the dealership’s part, however, Taylor said a new decision was made: “We were going to do it ourselves.”

“It just seemed like a worthy cause,“ she said.

Taylor said Thursday that a pet adoption event with Sammie’s Friends was set to be held Friday afternoon at Gold Rush Subaru, with a food truck and band adding to the festivities. The nonprofit planned to bring both dogs and kittens Friday, according to Wicks.

Susan and Scott Taylor also planned to meet Smith — as well as Ralphie — at the event, and present the check for the dealership’s $10,000 donation.

Smith said she had been reflecting on the help people have offered in this situation. She described having felt some loss of hope, both following her daughter’s death and during the COVID-19 pandemic, and said this recent support has restored her sense that good people are out there.

“We’ve never experienced anything like this, and the outpouring of love,” she said. “And it’s been a real bright spot, showing that there are still good people in this world.”

A team of volunteers from Sammie’s Friends, and crew from Gold Country Subaru in Auburn, pose with Ralphie, a dog for whom $13,000 was raised for his back surgery.

Victoria Penate is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at vpenate@theunion.com

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